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Sheetal Sukhija - Wednesday 1st August, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran - The U.S. President Donald Trump’s increasingly hostile Iran policy was capped in May this year, by his withdrawal of the U.S. from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.

The 2015 deal allowed six world powers, including the U.S. to offer Iran more than $110 billion a year in sanctions relief and a return to the global economy in exchange for halting its drive for nuclear weapons.

However, America’s withdrawal from the deal launched a 90-day wind-down period for the U.S. to reinstate the economically crippling sanctions on Iran - which are set to take effect on August 6.

Faced with restored U.S. sanctions and the prospect of even tighter U.S. sanctions than before, Iran’s economy has been in free fall ever since May, with the rail collapsing and businesses facing rising cost of imports - triggering Iranians to express their anger at the country’s government in almost daily street protests.

Fuming over the internal conflict in the country and fearing the possibility of a destabilizing economic future, Iran’s rhetoric 

towards the U.S. has turned increasingly aggressive. 

In one such outburst on Sunday, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cautioned the U.S. against making attempts to foment unrest in the country.

Rouhani said in a fiery speech that the U.S. President will fail to turn the Iranian people against their own government and any pressure will only bring Iranians closer. You cannot provoke the Iranian people against their own security and interests.”

The Iranian President also commented on Trump’s threat of halting Iranian oil exports and pointed out that the U.S. cannot prevent Iran from exporting oil and warned that a confrontation with the Islamic Republic would lead to the ‘mother of all wars.’

He said, "Do not play with the lion's tail or else you will regret it. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars. You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests.”

However, Rouhani’s threat seemed to have struck a chord with the American President, who fired off an explosive all-caps tweet rebuking Rouhani for threats made against the U.S.

Trump wrote, “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump tweeted. “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”

Then, on Monday, addressing a joint news conference with Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, Trump said he would “certainly meet” the Iranian president without preconditions.

He also added that he was willing to meet Rouhani “anytime they want to.”

Adding, “I’ll meet with anybody. There’s nothing wrong with meeting.”

Trump also clarified, “No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I’ll meet any time they want. Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”

While Iran’s immediate rejection of Trump’s offer was largely driven by distrust in the U.S. - Trump’s own administration too wasn’t very pleased with the President’s offer to hold talks without preconditions. 

Contradicting Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed out preconditions that had to be met first and said, “If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behaviour, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him.”

Further, Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the president’s National Security Council issued a statement saying the U.S. would not lift any sanctions or re-establish diplomatic and commercial relations until “there are tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies. Until then, the sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course.”

Thanks, but we don’t trust you!

However, despite feeling economic pressures and facing large-scale protests over rising prices - Iran was clear in its response to Trump’s offer.

Iran said that if the U.S. president wants talks he needs to rejoin the international nuclear deal he unilaterally pulled out of earlier this year.

In a statement on his official website, Rouhani said that Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal was “illegal,” and that the ball was “in Europe’s court” in terms of maintaining ties with Tehran.

The Iranian leader further wrote, “The Islamic Republic has never sought tension in the region and does not want any trouble in global waterways, but it will not easily give up on its rights to export oil.”

However, Iran and its officials were not as pleased as Trump would have expected with the offer to hold talks and possibly get a grip of the economic crisis - instead, they thought Trump’s offer of talks was a “humiliation,” without value.

One of Rouhani’s advisers, Hamid Aboutalebi, set his own conditions for any meeting with Trump, saying “respect for the great nation of Iran,” returning to the nuclear deal and a reduction in hostilities were needed first.

Further, Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran's Strategic Council on Foreign Relations said that Tehran saw no worth in Trump's offer.

He said, "Based on our bad experiences in negotiations with America and based on U.S. officials' violation of their commitments, it is natural that we see no value in his proposal. Trump should first make up for his withdrawal from the nuclear deal and show that he respects his predecessors’ commitments and international law.”

Further, Iran’s Interior Minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said, “Iran does not trust the United States as a negotiating partner. The United States is not trustworthy. How can we trust this country when it withdraws unilaterally from the nuclear deal?" 

Meanwhile, Reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian said, "If this negotiation (is) carried out in any form, then it will be considered as surrender, and the Iranian nation will not surrender.”

Rial in a death spiral - Iranians 

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, in a series of tense protests as the economy plummets amid crippling U.S. sanctions, thousands of Iranians closed their shops and market stalls and poured into the streets.

Gathering in the Amir-Kabir industrial complex of Isfahan in central Iran, shop keepers, vendors, farmers and even truck drivers were reportedly demonstrating against high prices as the value of Tehran’s currency, the rial, plummets.

Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in May pushed the rial into a death spiral and Iran’s home currency has been rapidly depreciating against the dollar since then.

Over the last four months, the rial has lost about half of its value as the country’s economy weakens and financial difficulties at local banks increase. 

The country has also been hit by falling salaries set against the rising cost of living, while water shortages and power outages have also hit the embattled country.

With the sanctions set to be reimposed in the next few days, Iran's economy is expected to slide further and the country is facing the threat of violence on the streets.

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