Elite cleric says Iran should not trust Europe, warns Israel

A senior Iranian cleric said on Friday that Europeans could not be trusted, after President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would likely remain in a 2015 nuclear deal even after the United States quit the pact.

"These European signatories also cannot be trusted… Iran‘s enemies cannot be trusted," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told worshipers at Tehran University in a speech that was broadcast on Iranian television.

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Iran says it is developing missiles solely for defence. But Khatami warned its arch-enemy Israel, which bombarded Iranian military targets in Syria earlier this week after Iranian forces fired rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"We will expand our missile capabilities despite Western pressure … to let Israel know that if it acts foolishly, Tel Aviv and Haifa will [be] brought down in ruins and totally destroyed," he said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this week that his country should nix the deal, unless Europe were to provide guarantees.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed with the six world powers: the US, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany.

The five remaining signatories are pushing Iran to keep the deal, which they believe prevents it from becoming a nuclear power.

The US left the deal because it believes that the agreement does not strip Iran of the capacity to develop nuclear weapons and does not touch on the issue of Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini plans to host a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday with the E3 foreign ministers.

The E3 will then meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mogherini‘s office said on Friday.

In a telephone call on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Iran‘s President Hassan Rouhani that she supported maintaining the nuclear accord as long as Tehran upholds its side of the deal. Macron told Rouhani the same a day earlier.

On Friday Merkel also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Iran.

Since Trump pulled out of the deal earlier this week and began to re-institute US sanctions, Europe has worked to protect its business interests with Iran. This includes protection against the US, should it chose to economically penalize those countries who continue to trade with Iran.

France pledged on Friday to push back against the threat of such US sanctions against French companies.

The French government is seeking waivers and longer transition periods from the United States for companies such as Renault and Total, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, while pressing for European Union measures to improve the bloc‘s "economic sovereignty" in the longer term.

But even Europe would like to renegotiate some of the terms of the deal as it relates to Tehran’s ballistic missile program which could threaten the European continent.

At a Thursday night rally in Indiana Trump said he hoped that at the end, the measures he has taken would sway Iran to renegotiate the deal.

“I hope to be able to make a deal with them, a good deal, a fair deal, a good deal for them, better for them,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

This “disastrous” deal “would have allowed Iran to go right to the brink of nuclear weapons” and “ultimately very quickly have a nuclear weapon,” the President said.

It also gave Iran billions of dollars, including some in cash “that would be used to spread bedlam and death and destruction all over the Middle East,” Trump said.

“We are putting the harshest, strongest, most stringent sanctions on Iran,” Trump said.

“The Iran deal was one of the most embarrassing deals the US has ever entered into,” Trump said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to begin talks with allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to press Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear and missile programs, US officials said.

The US hope is that Iran will be dragged to the table by the resumption of US sanctions – and possibly the imposition of more – which would penalize European and other companies and likely cripple Iran‘s oil-driven economy.

A senior State Department official said discussions with Britain, France and Germany, as well as Japan, Iraq and Israel had already taken place since U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled out of the nuclear pact.

"There will be an effort to go out globally and talk to our partners around the world who share our interests. That is the first stage," a senior State Department official said of plans for talks by Pompeo and his chief Iran negotiator, Brian Hook.

"The composition of what happens when we sit down with the Iranians is several stages out," the official said, adding that talks would focus on how to raise pressure on Iran "in a way that is constructive and conducive to bringing them to the negotiating table."

Washington has given grace periods of 90 days to six months for companies and countries to wind down their trade with Iran, including reducing purchases of Iranian oil.