Iran warns it will not accept changes to nuclear deal

Financial Times| Najmeh Bozorgmehr:  Iran would not accept any alteration to its nuclear deal with world powers if Donald Trump pursues his campaign pledge to derail the accord, a senior Iranian politician has said.

However, Tehran is open to the possibility of “strategic co-operation” with the US in the Middle East, Sadegh Kharrazi, leader of the moderate Neday-e Azadi and a relative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told the FT at the weekend.

“The internationally backed nuclear accordcannot be restructured with the change of one individual, and Iran would not accept any changes under any conditions,” Mr Kharrazi said in an interview. “This is Iran’s policy and there will be no setback.”

Mr Kharrazi said he was not speaking on behalf of the Islamic Republic. However, as a member of its inner circle, his mixture of warnings and offer of an olive branch is likely to reflect the general mood in the political hierarchy following Mr Trump’s presidential victory.

Prior to last week’s election Mr Trump said he would dismantle, or at least restructure, the nuclear deal — reached between Iran and six world powers last year — if he were elected. Under the agreement, Tehran agreed to scrap most of its nuclear activities while the US and EU pledged in return to lift many of the sanctions imposed over the Islamic Republic’s atomic ambitions.

Mr Trump described the agreement “as the stupidest deal of all time”, saying it would “give Iran, absolutely, nuclear weapons. Iran should write us a letter saying ‘thank you very much’.”

Ayatollah Khamenei hit back by saying that if the US “tears up the accord, Iran will set fire on it”.

However, Mr Trump’s comments were intended to win votes, Mr Kharrazi said, and did not necessarily reflect his policy plans once in office. “If Mr Trump co-operates with us and shows us goodwill, we will do the same to allay our mutual concerns in the region, such as Isis, the Taliban and the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen,” he added. “Undoubtedly, this can never lead to a strategic alliance but we can have strategic co-operation in the region.”

His views are reflected among many moderate Iranian politicians, who are taking a pragmatic stance, suggesting a businessman such as Mr Trump could prove very different as president than as a candidate.

But forces close to Hassan Rouhani, the centrist president, are worried that their biggest political achievement, the nuclear accord, is at stake. Uncertainty over the future of the deal could further fuel Iran’s economic stagnation and endanger provisional agreements with European companies, including last week’s $4.8bn gas agreement with France’s Total.

Mr Rouhani and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, have said the nuclear accord is not a bilateral deal that can be reversed by one side.

Meanwhile, pro-reform analysts in Iran have suggested the hardline Revolutionary Guards may be secretly hoping Mr Trump will sabotage the nuclear accord. This would provoke Iran to respond by seeking to hamper US strategy in the Middle East and so boost the elite force’s control over domestic and regional politics.

The guards are the guiding force behind Iran’s military and political influence in the region. Tehran is the most influential regional player in Iraq and the main supporter of the Assad regime in Damascus. It has also trained and financed Lebanon’s Hizbollah as its top proxy force.

The Islamic Republic has been further encouraged by Mr Trump’s suggestion that he will pursue improved relations with Russia – Iran’s ally in Syria – and less cordial ties with Saudi Arabia, its main regional rival.

“Mr Trump would be wise to look at Iran as an opportunity, which is what Russia is doing thanks to our exceptional might and strategic advantages in the region,” said Mr Kharrazi who, as Iran’s ambassador to Paris in 2003, initiated a strategy of engagement with the US that was rebuked by the George W Bush administration. “For now, we need to wait and see what will be the US’s security doctrine and who will be Mr Trump’s aides.”