A day after European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal took took the drastic step of triggering the agreement's dispute resolution mechanism regulating conformity to the deal by formally notifying the EU Iran is in breach, seen as the harshest measure taken thus far given it means EU sanctions are possible, President Hassan Rouhani has responded with his own ominous warning.
On Wednesday Rouhani in televised remarks demanded that foreign powers immediately withdraw their forces from the Middle East or face "danger".
"Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger," he said in reference to the Western allies.
Ironically, the countries of Britain, France, and Germany said they were acting in order to de-escalate soaring tensions following a Jan 6 declaration of Tehran leadership to no longer be beholden to uranium enrichment limits. This itself was in response to Washington dramatically raising the stakes with the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.
The European JCPOA signatories underscored they are "acting to avoid a crisis over nuclear proliferation" Reuters reported of the prior joint statement. Iranian FM Zarif charged that the EU investigation into Iran's alleged non-compliance meant Europe is allowing itself to be bulled by the United States. He told reporters Wednesday:
“They say ‘We are not responsible for what the United States did.’ OK, but you are independent countries. Europe, EU, is the largest global economy. So why do you allow the United States to bully you around?"
As for Rouhani's newest threat against US and Europe troops in the region, there have already been at least two separate rocket attacks this week against bases in Iraq which house American troops and contractors, in a slow and steady escalation expected to continue. Washington has pointed the finger at Iran-backed Shia militia groups despite no group claiming responsibility for these latest.
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And as for the apparent breakdown in Iran-Europe relations, given it looks like EU capitals now look more ready to reluctantly conform to Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign (despite explicit denials that this is what the 'dispute mechanism' triggering is all about), it's perhaps confirmation for Tehran of its prior charge that the Europeans are 'too little too late' with half-hearted measures to provide relief to Iran's economy decimated by US sanctions, such as the 'SWIFT-alternative' special purpose financial vehicle INSTEX.
Meanwhile, seizing on the nuclear's deal's apparent unraveling in progress, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said something else that certainly won't be taken warmly in Tehran: “If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it and let’s replace it with the Trump deal.”
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, @BorisJohnson, stated, “We should replace the Iran deal with the Trump deal.” I agree!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2020
Though of course there was at least one leader thrilled to hear this.