US President Donald Trump’s policy toward Iran appears to be working.
Sunday morning, President Hassan Rouhani told political activists in Tehran that Iran is facing “unprecedented” pressure from the international sanctions that were re-imposed by Trump; that Iranians must prepare for difficult times resulting from those renewed sanctions; and that they have led to worse economic conditions than Iran faced during the country’s 1980-88 war with Iraq.
“During the war, we did not have a problem with our banks, oil sales or imports and exports – and there were only sanctions on arms purchases,” said Rouhani. “The [current] pressures by enemies are a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution… But, I do not despair and have great hope for the future, and believe that we can move past these difficult conditions, provided that we are united.”
His comments come amid rising tensions with the US. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, announced a week ago the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and its strike group over “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
The Lincoln passed through the Suez Canal on Thursday, according to the US Central Command. Alongside the carrier are three destroyers: the USS Bainbridge, USS Mason and USS Nitze, as well as the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and a Spanish frigate, the ESPS Mendez Nunez.
In addition, B-52s from the 20th Bomb Squadron have landed in recent days in Qatar and elsewhere in “southwest Asia” – possibly the United Arab Emirates. And on Friday, the Pentagon announced it would be returning a Patriot missile battery to the wider Mideast, as well as sending the USS Arlington, an amphibious warship carrying marines, to join the Lincoln.
All these moves are a response to a possible threat to US forces in the region by Iran, according to the White House, which did not specify what that threat is. Iran dismissed the claim as nonsense, but Bolton warned the Islamic republic that any attack on American interests or allies would face “unrelenting force.”
The US-Iran escalation has put into question the future of the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with Germany and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members: US, UK, France, Russia and China.
Iran announced last week that it had suspended two commitments under the nuclear accord, and threatened to step up uranium enrichment if it was not shielded from the effects of the sanctions within 60 days.
European leaders said that while they remained committed to the Iran nuclear deal, they “reject any ultimatums” from Tehran to prevent its collapse.
The sweeping unilateral sanctions that Washington re-imposed when it quit the agreement a year ago have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy, pushing the value of its currency to record lows, driving away foreign investors and triggering protests.
And for good reason: the plunging value of the rial has affected the prices of imported staples as well as locally produced goods. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, the cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57% over the past 12 months; milk, cheese and eggs by 37%; and vegetables by 47%.
There was worldwide concern a year ago that US withdrawal from the Iran agreement would make crude oil prices spike. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that “simple math” shows there’s been no disruption to the global oil supply.
“In fact,” he said, “crude oil prices today are lower than they were the day that we withdrew from the JCPOA. Lower. Not higher, not radically higher, not crazy higher, not chaos – but lower.”
It is clear that the final battle over the fate of the Iran nuclear deal has begun. The Trump administration is hoping to compel Tehran to negotiate a new agreement, and the increased sanctions might indeed force Iran to respond. The US reportedly contacted Switzerland on Friday to pass on Trump’s phone number to the Iranians, asking them to call should they wish to start new talks.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responded, saying that Tehran would not negotiate with the United States – and a senior cleric warned that the US navy fleet headed toward the Gulf could be “destroyed with one missile.”
We urge European leaders to take such threats seriously, and to stand tall in the face of Iran’s nefarious intentions.
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