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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Iran condemns ‘businessman’ Trump after US and France call for a new nuclear deal

Trump and Macron are seeking a broader deal that imposes tougher terms on Tehran

<p>Iranian&nbsp;President Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province. Atta Kenare / AFP</p>
<p>Iranian&nbsp;President Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province. Atta Kenare / AFP</p>

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday questioned the “right” of the US and France to make fresh calls for a new nuclear deal, a day after Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that Iran would abandon the deal if the US also withdrew.

“Together with a leader of a European country they say: 'We want to decide on an agreement reached by seven parties'. What for? With what right?” Mr Rouhani said in a fiery speech.

"We have an agreement called the JCPOA," he said, in reference to the deal agreed by world powers in 2015 that sought to rein in Tehran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

"It will either last or not. If the JCPOA stays, it stays in full".

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump hosted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the White House. He described the deal as “insane” and “ridiculous” while Mr Macron said the agreement should impose tougher terms on Iran, such as a settlement in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Trump is seeking a wider deal that will impede Iran’s ballistic missile production and support of proxy groups across the Middle East.

In his speech, the Iranian leader took aim at Mr Trump, who has long been a fierce critic of the agreement.

“You are just a businessman...you have no experience in politics or law or international agreements," he said. "How can he pass judgements on international affairs?”

His comments came as the European Union and Russia said there could be no such new deal.

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EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the current Iranian nuclear deal must be upheld by all involved parties.

"On what can happen in the future we'll see in the future, but there is one deal existing, it's working, it needs to be preserved", the former Italian foreign minister said as she arrived for a donor conference on Syria in Brussels.

Moscow said, like the EU, it also remained in favour of the current nuclear agreement.

"We believe that no alternative exists so far", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

Macron has imaged himself as the closest European leader to Trump and the man to broker a compromise where the American leader can portray a diplomatic victory over Iran, while maintaining a deal that negates Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The next deadline for the renewal of the deal is May 12, and it remains unclear if the construction magnate turned politician will walk away from the deal. But his rhetoric made it clear that he remains unsatisfied with the current deal on the table.

"They're not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they're going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before. And you can mark it down," Mr Trump said.

He suggested that his predecessor Barack Obama and other world leaders should have struck an agreement that "covered Yemen, that covered Syria. No matter where you go in the Middle East, you see the fingerprints of Iran behind problems".

Trump's tough Iran stance has been praised by the Islamic Republic's arch-enemy, Israel, who says the nuclear deal threatens its national security by handing Iran billions of dollars in unfrozen assets. It is accused of funding militant groups opposed to Israel, such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. It also has been accused of funding the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Macron did not go as far as Trump but said that he hoped "for now to work on a new deal with Iran". His expressed optimism, saying there was a "great shot" for a new accord between Washington and Tehran.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington on Friday and is widely expected to push for maintaining the current deal.

The hard-won nuclear deal, signed in July 2015, was the result of years of negotiation and thawed ties between the West and the Islamic Republic. Western nations had become concerned that Tehran had aims of developing a nuclear weapon.