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Trump's Iran decision wins plaudits from Israel and Saudi Arabia, blistering criticism from Europe

Trump's Iran decision wins plaudits from Israel and Saudi Arabia, blistering criticism from Europe
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attend a ceremony in Paris on May 8, 2018, marking 73 years since World War II ended in Europe. (Francois Guillot / Associated Press)

European leaders reacted with dismay but determination Tuesday after President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran and impose tough new sanctions.

The move marked a profound rupture with the United Nations and with the deal's other signatories, including Britain, France and Germany, and threatened to become the biggest fracture in transatlantic relations in a generation.

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Seconds after Trump made the announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron, who tried to sway the American leader to maintain the deal during a visit to Washington last month, tweeted his disappointment.

In a joint statement issued moments later, Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed "regret and concern" over Trump's announcement to withdraw from the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,

"Together we underline our continued support in favor of the JCPoA. This agreement represents a particular importance for our common security. We would remind people that the JCPoA was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 2231."

It continued: "We appeal to all parties to continue to fully comply and to act in a spirit of responsibility. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran continues to conform to the restrictions laid down in the JCPoA and its obligations under the nuclear arms nonproliferation treaty. The security of the world is strengthened by this."

The statement went on to ask the United States to ensure that the structure of the deal remains in place "and to avoid any measure that would prevent their being adhered to by other parties."

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said there would be a "united European approach" to Trump's decision. He said European Union leaders would address the issues of the Iran deal and sanctions at a summit next week.

In a hard-hitting and defiant statement, Federica Mogherini, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said at a news conference that the U.S. decision would not only hurt Iran but also hit "crucial benefits" for the EU. She added that the EU was "fully committed" to the deal.

"I am particularly worried about the announcement tonight of new sanctions. I will consult very closely with all our partners in the coming hours and days to assess the implications," Mogherini said.

The agreement, she added, "has been working and it is delivering on its goal, which is guaranteeing that Iran doesn't develop nuclear weapons."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic would remain in the deal for now and open negotiations with the remaining signatories about preserving it.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would stay in the nuclear deal and seek to preserve it.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would stay in the nuclear deal and seek to preserve it. ()

"If we can guarantee our interests, we will save the JCPoA," he said in a televised speech shortly after Trump spoke. But Rouhani warned that he had ordered two Iranian atomic energy organizations to be ready to resume industrial-scale nuclear enrichment in weeks, if the negotiations are not successful.

"I am sorry for the American people, who are a great people but unfortunately administrated by people who are not wise," Rouhani said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been a foe of the Iran deal from the beginning, praised Trump's decision, saying the "disastrous" pact had pushed the region closer to conflict.

"The deal didn't push war further away; it actually brought it closer," he said in a televised address. "The deal didn't reduce Iran's aggression; it dramatically increased it."

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Others in Israel, however, said that Trump's announcement had raised the risk level, and the military and educational authorities began preparing for war. Within two hours of the president's statement, Israel called up reserve troops with the air defense, military intelligence and Home Front Command. The Israeli army said in a statement that after detecting "unusual movements of Iranian forces" in Syria, it had ordered northern Golan Heights communities, which lie on the border with Syria, to open their air raid shelters.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States said the kingdom, Iran's main rival in the Middle East, fully supported the measures taken by Trump.

"With regards to the deal, we are on auto pilot heading towards a mountain," Ambassador Khalid bin Salman, the brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said in a series of tweets.

He said the deal had provided Iran with a financial windfall that it used to spread sectarian strife and chaos in the region.

"Since the deal was inked, instead of behaving like a responsible member of the int'l community, the regime doubled down on its support for terror, providing dangerous weapons (such as ballistic missiles) to terrorist proxies including the Houthis In Yemen to target civilians" in Saudi Arabia, the ambassador wrote.

The landmark JCPoA agreement was signed in July 2015 after almost two years of intensive talks involving Iran and the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Under the deal, Iran pulled the plug on its military nuclear program in return for the lifting of debilitating sanctions.

Hours before Trump's statements, officials from Britain, France, Germany and the European Union's foreign policy service met Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, in Brussels and emphasized their support for the deal.

Earlier in the day, Florence Parly, the French minister for armed forces, told the RTL news agency that European countries would continue to support the deal "with or without the Americans."

"While not being perfect, it has nevertheless some virtues, one of which is that it suspended a nuclear program that did not appear to be pacifist," she continued, "and it allowed the regular and strict verification of the Iranians to see if they were respecting the agreement. They were respecting it."

Macron and Trump spoke Tuesday and were reported by French press to have "covered questions about the peace and stability of the Middle East."

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said Monday that France was "determined to save this agreement because it saves us from nuclear proliferation."

Macron was reported to have spoken to May and Merkel 30 minutes before Trump's announcement.

Francois Durpaire, a U.S. expert for BFMTV, said the decision was "politics, not geopolitics. All deals passed before he was president, Donald Trump was against. Clearly Emmanuel Macron didn't convince Donald Trump … but does killing the Iran agreement solve the Iranian problem?"

Willsher is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Alexandra Zavis and special correspondent Noga Tarnopolsky in Jerusalem and special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.

UPDATES:

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4:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with reaction from Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia.

This article was originally posted at 1:25 p.m.

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