Trump spoke for 10 minutes while the world watched. But 10 words tell us all we need to know about what might come next
Iran, Islamic Republic Of
He knew the world was watching, so US President Donald Trump chose a provocative first line.
“As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” he said, before saying good morning and launching into scripted remarks.
It’s not the first time he’s made such a statement, but it was a notable choice for what was the President’s first formal explanation of the US position on Iran.
@realDonaldTrump: IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!
Flanked by his top military brass, Mr Trump spoke for roughly 10 minutes during America’s work day but Iran’s primetime hours.
It’s been five days since the US assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in retaliation for an Iranian strike that left four servicemen wounded and one American contractor dead.
But it’s been more than a year since Mr Trump fulfilled his campaign promise to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Tensions have only escalated as Iran and America exchange threats and provocations.
With his latest remarks, Mr Trump appears to be maintaining, but not escalating, the sense of tension. He’s decided to respond to Iran’s latest move with another round of economic sanctions, which will “remain until Iran changes its behaviour”.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned, and a very good thing for the world,” he said.
“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
In other words, military escalation appears to be on pause for now.
But given his choice of an opening salvo, it’s clear peace comes with conditions. Mr Trump is leaving the door open to resuming the rhetoric if Iran pursues a bloodier revenge.
New nuclear deal still one of Trump’s campaign promises
Mr Trump took time to praise America’s military preparedness and mentioned new supersonic weapons capabilities.
“We continue to evaluate options,” he said.
It’s unclear what the sanctions will target and what effect, if any, they’d have. There are years’ worth of sanctions already stacked on Iran’s beleaguered economy.
Mr Trump has long detested the Obama-era JCPOA, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which promised to end many of the sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country’s responsible and peaceful development of nuclear power.
The deal was considered Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy agreement. Mr Trump called it “weak” and “a failure” while on the campaign trail in 2016.
“This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made … It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will,” he said.
The Trump administration officially pulled out of the agreement in May 2018, and began a “maximum pressure campaign” that involved slapping a lot of sanctions on the country. The White House promised to renegotiate the deal and outlined 12 criteria for Iran to meet in order to start talks.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei scoffed at the suggestion.
“Even if we ever — impossible as it is — negotiated with the US, it would never ever be with the current US administration,” he said.
Mr Trump was heavily criticised for the change in policy and the resulting tensions that boiled up.
The remaining seven parties signed onto the deal have struggled to salvage the agreement, and after the death of Soleimani last week, Iran announced it would begin enriching more uranium.
@JZarif: As 5th & final REMEDIAL step under paragraph 36 of JCPOA, there will no longer be any restriction on number of centrifuges This step is within JCPOA & all 5 steps are reversible upon EFFECTIVE implementation of reciprocal obligations Iran's full cooperation w/IAEA will continue
Foreign policy experts said this quashed any hopes the deal might be restored.
But if today means Mr Trump is keeping one campaign promise stagnant, he’ll use the occasion to boast a victory on another: Keeping the US out of foreign entanglements.
True, the US has positioned an extra 2,800 troops in the area in recent days. But threats and sanctions aren’t the same as actual bloodshed, especially in the eyes of his supporters.
Trump puts pressure on US allies
Mr Trump also spent part of today’s speech urging European countries to ditch the deal and join his maximum pressure campaign.
“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed,” Mr Trump said.
“Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘Death to America’. In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed.
“Iran went on a terrorist spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
It’s unclear what the JCPOA parties — including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — will do next. Mr Trump’s actions put them in a tough spot.
The deal was considered one of the European Union’s crowning foreign policy achievements, in part because it helped the region keep good ties with both the US and China.
China has a good track record of relations with Iran and is an economically important ally to Europe.
Mr Trump is effectively asking America’s long-standing European allies to choose between him or the leaders in Beijing.
That’d be a tough decision to make, even without the chance that the President might be out of office after the election.
The allies are surely also considering that the President could do something predictably unpredictable like suddenly kill an Iranian general or reverse course and start new talks.
Much depends on Iran’s response
Mr Trump’s speech gave little clarification of the specific motivations for killing General Soleimani other than to say he was responsible for taking the lives of hundreds of Americans and had been planning something very big.
The administration has offered only vague explanations after being pressed by the media and the public over the past few days. Mr Trump and his top aides are expected to discuss that intelligence today and decide whether to declassify the information for public release.
In terms of an Iranian response, the country’s Foreign Minister has already indicated the country has responded with proportionate force and does not seek to escalate tensions or go to war.
But with that slap-in-the-face-type opening line Mr Trump used, it could enrage the Iranians into taking more subtle steps to provoke the US in coming months. The question is how much.
More stories on the tension between the US and Iran:
- Donald Trump’s provocative opening line might just lead to more tension with Iran
- Don’t let Iran’s attack fool you — Soleimani was a bigger problem alive than dead
- I’ve watched real-time lethal drone strikes. This is how an attack plays out
- Iran has retaliated against the US. Here’s what you need to know
- Trump knew Iran would retaliate for Soleimani’s killing – here’s why he did it anyway
- Ayatollah warns Iran missile strike is a ‘slap on the face’ against US
- Could tension between the US and Iran spark World War 3
- ‘The brink of a catastrophic military clash’: Here’s what’s happening between the US and Iran
- Here’s why the US killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is such a big deal
- America and Iran are teetering on the brink of war. This is why they hate each other