Iran’s supreme leader warned the country might abandon its nuclear deal with world powers, casting doubt on the ability of European states to save the accord following the US withdrawal.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet on Wednesday they “should give up hope on [Europe] over economic issues or the nuclear deal”, according to his website.
“The nuclear deal is a means, not the goal, and if we come to this conclusion that it does not serve our national interests, we can abandon it,” he was quoted as saying.
Iran would never negotiate with “indecent and confrontational” US officials on a new agreement, Khamenei said.
Following US President Donald Trump‘s exit from the important international accord to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, European powers have scrambled to ensure Tehran continues to receive economic benefits needed to keep it in compliance.
Khamenei set out a series of conditions in May for European powers if they wanted to keep Iran in the deal. They included steps by European banks to safeguard trade with Tehran and guarantee Iranian oil sales.
Khamenei’s remarks came as Iran tries to cope with the return of US sanctions, which triggered mounting economic problems that in turn are causing political tumult.
Rouhani has been battered by the return of US sanctions that saw a rapid departure of foreign firms and ended his hopes of attracting large-scale investment.
Conservative opponents of Rouhani, who have long opposed his outreach to the West, are smelling blood.
Rouhani was criticised over his handling of the economy and parliament attacked his key ministers. On Tuesday, he was grilled in parliament over economy for the first time in five years as president.
Legislators also sacked the minister of economy and finance as well as the labour minister.
“The nuclear deal is a means, not the goal, and if we come to this conclusion that it does not serve our national interests, we can abandon it.”
Iran\’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran’s official unemployment rate is 12 percent, with youth unemployment as high as 25 percent in a country where 60 percent of the 80 million population is under 30. The riyal has lost more than two-thirds of its value in a year.
The worst may yet lie ahead as senior US officials say they aim to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero after the new round of sanctions in November.
Iran has said if it cannot sell its oil because of US pressure, then no other regional country will be allowed to do so either, threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz – the strategic artery linking Gulf crude producers to the world.
A senior Iranian military official warned on Wednesday if foreign forces in the Gulf do not follow international laws, they would face the Revolutionary Guards’ firm response.