Iran's foreign minister warned that President Donald Trump's threats to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement send a "very dangerous message" about the wisdom of negotiating a deal with the United States.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States has failed to implement its side of the nuclear pact between Iran and six major powers. Under the deal, which went into force in January 2016 when President Barack Obama was still in office, Iran agreed to put limits on parts of its nuclear program in exchange for the termination of all nuclear-related sanctions.
"That's a very dangerous message to send to 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,'" he said. "The situation is creating an impression globally that agreements don't matter."
Zarif, in town to attend meetings at the United Nations, said if Washington leaves the deal, Iran has many options to consider, including complaining through a dispute mechanism set up in the agreement, simply leaving the deal and restarting its nuclear activities, or more "drastic measures," which he declined to specify.
"We will make a decision based on our national security interests when the times comes," he said. "But whatever that decision will be, it won't be very pleasant to the United States."
Trump has been a vocal critic of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In January, he decided to stick with the deal temporarily, but gave the Europeans a May 12 deadline to fix what he called its "terrible flaws."
Zarif made clear Iran had no intention of accepting new concessions.
Tehran maintains its nuclear program was peaceful, and Zarif said if Iran resumed its nuclear activities, it would not be for the purpose of developing a nuclear weapon. He noted that CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently said in testimony at his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state that Iran was not "racing towards 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, it's up to them," Zarif said.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will both visit Washington in the next week, where they will try to convince Trump to remain in the deal. Zarif showed little optimism about such efforts, saying "to try to appease the President would be an exercise in futility."
"If the European countries want to preserve the deal they have to make it sustainable for Iran ... they need to impose pressure on the United States in order to compel the US, encourage the US to implement what it undertook under the deal," Zarif said. "Unfortunately, it hasn't been doing that."
The foreign minister accused the US of doing everything in its power to prevent Iran from engaging economically with the rest of the world, blocking Tehran from benefiting from the easing of sanctions under the deal.
"I don't think that a country that has been in breach for at least the last 15 months is in a position to make any new demands," he said.
Zarif also said it was "highly unlikely" that Iran would stay inside the agreement if the US effectively pulled out.
"It's very important for Iran to receive the benefits of the agreement," he said. "There's no way that Iran would do a one-sided implementation of it."
Zarif said that his country would be open to negotiations with the US over a prisoner swap if the Trump administration showed more respect toward Iran. In 2016, after months of secret talks between Iranian and US officials, Iran released four Americans in exchange for the US releasing seven Iranians in American jails.
Currently, five Americans are being held in Iran, including 81-year old Baquer Namazi, who is in failing health.
Zarif said many prisoners are being held in the US and elsewhere at Washington's request.
He also questioned claims by Western governments that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack against the Damascus suburb of Douma earlier this month, saying there was insufficient evidence to reach such a conclusion. He defended the Iranian presence in Syria, but denied having any Iranian bases inside the country and said his nation's presence was limited to military advisers stationed inside Syrian bases.