US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson says president Donald Trump’s administration is not opposed to European countries doing business with Iran.
Tillerson's remarks in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Friday came one week after Trump refused to certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal with world powers, and left its fate to the US Congress.
"The president's been pretty clear that it's not his intent to interfere with business deals that the Europeans may have under way with Iran," Tillerson told WSJ.
“He’s said it clearly: ‘That’s fine. You guys do what you want to do.'”
Tillerson said that after working with the Europeans for six months, “we will start a more formalized process with them now that the policy’s been adopted.”
However, Tillerson said little about the fate of Boeing contracts to sell passenger planes to Tehran or General Electric's agreements to sell equipment and technologies to Iran’s energy sector.
Boeing reached an agreement with Iran Air in December 2016 for 80 aircraft valued at $16.6 billion, based on list prices. Iranian officials have said the deal's value is closer to $8 billion.
Iran Air CEO Farzaneh Sharafbafi recently insisted that the aircraft order was still safe even if the US left the nuclear deal, but there is opposition to the deal in the U.S. Congress and its future is uncertain.
Earlier, Trump had threatened a “total termination” of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic unless Congress tightens sanctions on the country and European allies address US concerns.
A week ago, he announced new sanctions on Iran’s powerful military elite, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), describing it as “the Iranian supreme leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”
In a coordinated manner, all key members of President Trump’s administration have unequivocally supported the White House’s new strategy against Tehran.
Imposing sanctions on IRGC is going to play a pivotal role in the new strategy. However, there are so many complications ahead, US officials have admitted.
“It is a difficult, complex intelligence undertaking to sort out which entities are controlled by the Guards, which ones have shareholders,” CIA director Mike Pompeo said at a forum organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, estimating the Guards control as much as 20 percent of the Iranian economy.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a think tank that contributed research and scholarship to the Trump administration’s new strategy on Iran unveiled last week.
“But imagine you’re a European CEO, or board of directors or a lender…. Imagine that you’re a businessperson deciding whether it was appropriate to take that risk or not, whether the return was there for your company. I think we can make it even more difficult”, Pompeo reiterated.
Meanwhile Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said they have discussed their new Iran approach with members of Congress. While a new agreement may not be possible, they said some lawmakers have been receptive, and improving the agreement is worth a try in any case.
Said McMaster: "Nobody's for Iran getting nuclear weapons."
McMaster, who was also speaking at the FDD forum, said the president’s first choice is to get Congress and European allies on board with a “pressure” strategy that will force Iran back to the negotiating table.
US National Security Adviser specifically went after the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps as a “terrorist enabling” body that engages in drug smuggling worldwide.
“They [IRGC commanders] are a great narcotics trafficking organization that enrich themselves while poison the world and use that money to create murder”, McMaster noted.
Trump’s top adviser also insisted that US new strategy is neutralizing all Tehran’s actions aimed at destabilizing the region.
Meanwhile, McMaster referred to a number of Tehran’s “negative impact” on Iran and the whole region, including “financial support for terrorism”, “supporting Basha al-Assad crimes”,“Hostility with Israel”, jeopardizing the security of international sea routes, particularly in the Persian Gulf”, “violating human rights”, “arbitrarily arresting people with impunity” and placing foreigners, including US citizens waywardly behind bars”.
Based on reporting by Wall Street Journal, Reuters, AFP and the Jerusalem Post