Pompeo vows US will block Iran from building a nuclear weapon

By CAROL MORELLO | The Washington Post | Published: May 8, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday vowed the United States would ensure Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon if Tehran pulls back from an agreement the Trump administration abandoned a year ago.

Appearing at a news conference in London beside British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Pompeo adopted a wait-and-see attitude to Iranian assertions that the country will stop complying with elements of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

Pompeo said the United States will be watching to see if any steps Iran takes would reduce the breakout time to amass enough material to build a nuclear weapon and would work with Europeans "to ensure Iran has no pathway for a nuclear weapons system."

Hunt warned of serious consequences if Iran breaks its commitments under the deal.

"So we urge the Iranians to think very long and hard before breaking that deal," Hunt said. "It is in no one's interest. It is certainly not in their interest. Because the moment they go nuclear, Iran's neighbors will as well."

Tensions related to U.S. sanctions that are damaging Iran's economy have been growing in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the deal. A U.S. aircraft carrier and bombers have been ordered to the Persian Gulf, and the White House is expected to impose new sanctions soon.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been under pressure to do something to fight back against the economic squeeze as the United States has canceled waivers to countries who have been purchasing oil from Iran.

Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday that Iran is preparing to keep its stockpiles of excess uranium and heavy water used in its nuclear reactors. Though he stopped short of a complete withdrawal from the 2015 accord, he said Tehran would resume the enrichment of high-grade uranium in 60 days unless more is done to improve economic conditions. Europe is caught between wanting Iran to keep its commitments under the agreement and not wanting to run afoul of U.S. sanctions.

In the United States, Rouhani's announcement was met with some criticism of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement a year ago and then impose a raft of new sanctions.

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, said Iran's pull back was an inevitable outcome of U.S. policy.

"Trump has initiated a chain reaction that will make America and the world less safe," she said in a statement. "Trump had created a bizarre situation in which Iran was more sanctioned for abiding by an international nuclear agreement than it was when the U.S. and the West accused it of violating one," he added.

Others said the blame rests with Tehran.

Tim Morrison, senior director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Biodefense at the National Security Council, accused Iran of trying to blackmail Europe and urged European nations to join in pushing Iran back to the negotiating table.

"Let us be clear: This is nothing less than nuclear blackmail of Europe," he said.

Morrison, speaking at a conference organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said Iran cannot he trusted with any nuclear capability and has no right to enrich uranium under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

He said the United States would continue to apply maximum pressure to Iran and would not allow the country to threaten U.S. interests.

"Expect more sanctions soon," Morrison said. "Very soon."

The Washington Post's William Booth in London and Paul Sonne in Washington contributed to this report.

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