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The Iran Nuclear Deal: Viewed From Iran's Position


This week, we expect President Trump to address the U.S. approach to Iran. A central question is what to do about the nuclear deal with that country. His secretary of state and secretary of defense have said the deal is in the U.S. national interest, but the president has said he does not like this deal negotiated by President Obama's administration. He faces a deadline for a decision that could start the U.S. down the road toward potentially backing out. So that's the view from Washington. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been listening for the view from Iran.


AHMAD KHATAMI: (Speaking Farsi).

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: That's hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami at Friday prayers in Tehran last week, broadcast by Iranian state television. He's saying America has broken both the spirit and the letter of the JCPOA. That's the nuclear deal. He also says, neither the U.S. nor Europe can be trusted.

President Trump is required by Congress to certify that Iran is still holding up its end of the nuclear deal. If he doesn't do that this week, Congress could reimpose sanctions on Iran. Trump and other critics of the deal say it does nothing to contain Iran's destabilizing actions in the Middle East or to restrict its ballistic missile program.

Some of Iran's reactions have been predictably threatening. Revolutionary Guard commanders have weighed in. One says, the U.S. would need to move its regional bases out of range of Iranian missiles if the deal is violated. But Iran watchers say rhetorical bluster isn't a reliable predictor of how Tehran will respond to pressure.

Last month, President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News that Iran could certainly ramp its nuclear program back up if the deal falls apart. But he added through an interpreter that it wouldn't be the first to walk away from the accord.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) And that's not difficult. We can easily go back to previous conditions if counterparts were to not live up to their commitments. But you do know fairly well that Iran will not be the initiator of this return to that path.

KENYON: The stakes for Tehran are high. Losing the sanctions relief it gained by agreeing to sharply restrict its nuclear program for at least a decade could threaten billions of dollars' worth of business deals now in the works. And despite the release of billions more in frozen assets under the deal, Iran is only in the early stages of rebuilding its economy.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has sometimes taken a different approach, pointing out the benefits to the West of staying in the nuclear deal. In a September conversation with journalist Charlie Rose, Zarif said, under the agreement, Iran is scheduled to make permanent the enhanced, more intrusive nuclear inspections known as the additional protocol. It's currently accepting those only temporarily. But, Zarif added, it would be unlikely to do so if Congress put sanctions back on Iran.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: So if Congress behaves, in six years from now, we will be ratifying the additional protocol. Additional protocol is the most intrusive inspection regime that is available.

KENYON: Tariq Rauf is a former official with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA carries out the more intrusive inspections Zarif was talking about. He says keeping those in place is vital. And he wonders if other countries might maintain the nuclear deal and keep right on trading with Iran even if Washington does restore U.S. sanctions.

TARIQ RAUF: Yeah, I think that would not be a bad outcome. And there have been signals, I believe, from Iran that the Iranians would be prepared to live with that. They would be unhappy about the U.S., but they wouldn't walk out of the deal if the rest of the partners continued to honor it.

KENYON: But that would be much less likely if Congress adds punitive measures against other countries for doing business with Iran. So besides Iran, Europe will also be watching closely as America signals a shift in its Iran policy away from diplomacy and toward possible confrontation. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FARROH'S "DREAM CHASE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.