Rouhani: Foreign forces in Middle East ‘may be in danger’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has told foreign powers to withdraw their forces from the Middle East, warning that they “may be in danger” if they remain in the region.

“Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks on Wednesday, without elaborating.

The comments came a day after the United Kingdom, France and Germany challenged Tehran over breaking limits of a major nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Iran and six world powers.

The European nations announced on Tuesday that they triggered the dispute mechanism provided for in the landmark agreement in order to force Tehran to honour its commitments under the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018.

Rouhani’s comments mark the first time he has threatened European countries amid heightened tensions with the US.

Friction in the region escalated in recent months after a series of attacks in the Gulf region that Washington blamed on Iran and its proxies, over Iranian denials. Fears of an all-out war emerged earlier in January after a US air strike killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, prompting retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against US targets in Iraq.

Nuclear deal

Separately, Rouhani also dismissed a proposal for a new “Trump deal” to replace the JCPOA, saying it was a “strange” offer and criticising the US president for breaking promises.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has praised Trump as a great dealmaker, called on Tuesday for Trump to replace the Iranian nuclear deal with his own new pact to ensure the Islamic republic does not get an atomic weapon – Iran has pledged that it does not seek the bomb.

“Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, @BorisJohnson, stated, ‘We should replace the Iran deal with the Trump deal,'” Trump said in a tweet. “I agree!”

Trump in May 2018 withdrew the US from the deal, in which Tehran had agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a reprieve from international sanctions. The US has since reimposed a range of sanctions on Tehran and called for negotiations over a new accord.

In response to the US move, Tehran has begun uranium enrichment again and enhancing its nuclear programme, while also accusing the European parties to the deal of failing to live up to their own commitments to provide economic relief to Tehran.

Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig said Rouhani urged the European powers to live up to their commitments in the nuclear deal and not give in to US demands.

“Rouhani stressed that all the steps Iran took in response to the US withdrawal from the deal were reversible,” Baig said.

“He said this is a good deal for Iran, but Tehran would keep fulfilling its commitments only if European parties to the deal do so as well.”

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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