In comments that were clearly intended as a warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his regime a day after the North announced an unprecedented freeze of its nuclear program ahead of bilateral talks with the US, Iran's outspoken Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that, by pushing to change the Iran deal, the US was sending a dangerous message: Never negotiate with the United States.
Zarif made his comments, which were reported by Reuters and RT, during a brief meeting with reporters in New York, where he's attending a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. During the meeting, Zarif accused the US of asking for more from Iran, despite not holding up its end of the bargain.
"That’s a very dangerous message to send to the people of Iran, but also to the people of the world – that you should never come to an agreement with the United States because, at the end of the day, the operating principle of the United States is 'what's mine is mine, what's yours is negotiable,'" Zarif said.
The Iranian FM also warned Washington’s allies, France and Germany, who have not yet definitively ruled out the possibility of 'amending' the deal, that trying to "appease" US President Donald Trump would be "an exercise in futility."
President Trump has offered conflicting signals about whether a US withdrawal from the deal is already a forgone conclusion, or whether the US will still push Congress, its European allies and Iran for some "modifications" before the implicit May 12 deadline. Following reports last month that the administration was heavily leaning toward scrapping the deal, Trump has more recently made it clear that the US's continued support is contingent on three factors: expiring limits on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran's ballistic-missile program - which has long angered the US and Israel - as well as the scope of inspections meant to ensure compliance. Trump is expected to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House this week.
When asked if Iran would consider remaining in the deal even if the US withdraws, Zarif said it was "highly unlikely". He added that Iran might consider filing a complaint through a mechanism set up by the deal - but more likely Iran would simply restart its nuclear enrichment program, which he insisted was not intended to develop a nuclear weapon.
When asked if Iran could stay in the deal with the remaining parties, Zarif said: "I believe that’s highly unlikely because it is important for Iran to received the benefits of the agreement and there was no way Iran would do a one-sided implementation of the agreement."
Iran has always said its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes and Zarif said if Tehran resumed its nuclear activities it would not be intended "to get a bomb."
"America never should have feared Iran producing a nuclear bomb, but we will pursue vigorously our nuclear enrichment. If they want to fear anything its up to them," Zarif said.
Whatever Iran ultimately decides, it will let its choice be known "when the time comes."
"We will make a decision based on our national security interests when the times comes. But whatever that decision will be, it won’t be very pleasant to the United States," he said.
The Iran deal was signed back in 2015 under the Obama administration. It included the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. But during the campaign and especially since taking office, Trump has blasted the deal as the "worst deal ever negotiated."
And considering that the Trump administration just elevated two notorious Iran hawks - John Bolton as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo, who is awaiting a confirmation vote on whether he'll be the next Secretary of State - it's likely Zarif's warning will be utterly ignored by the White House.
And so far, at least, North Korea has appeared willing to overlook the US's treatment of Iran.
With three weeks to go until the deadline, we wouldn't be surprised to see more updated reports about the administration's thinking leak as soon as next week, following Trump's meetings with his French and German counterparts.