Iran Says Trump Foreign Policy Among 'Most Unsuccessful' in U.S. History as Uranium Stockpile Blows Limit

Iranian officials are continuing to crow over President Donald Trump's election defeat, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggesting the president is to blame for one of the "most unsuccessful" foreign policy offerings in American political history.

Zarif gave a wide-ranging interview on Tehran's plans for the new U.S. administration to the Iran Daily Newspaper, which was published on Wednesday. According to a transcript of the interview published by the Mehr News Agency, Zarif repeatedly claimed Iranian victory over Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign.

Tensions with Iran have punctuated Trump's presidency, spiking after the president withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. Trump vowed—and ultimately has failed—to secure a new, stricter agreement, a proposal repeatedly dismissed by Iranian leaders.

The administration has sought to cripple Iran with new sanctions, isolate the country diplomatically, and apply pressure with new regional military deployments (also a response to Iranian aggression) but Tehran has refused to come to the negotiating table. The regime will now be hoping for sanctions relief from a Joe Biden administration keen to resurrect the stalled JCPOA.

"Trump's policy of withdrawal from the JCPOA and 'maximum pressure' campaign against Iran resulted in a failure," Zarif said. "This does not mean that we benefited from the policy. It implies that Trump failed to achieve the desired result."

"We faced great pressure as a consequence of such a strategy," Zarif admitted. Iran's economy is withering under the impact of sanctions, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. "Although we defeated the U.S., the domestic economy suffered losses under Trump's sanctions," Zarif said.

Despite the economic pain and unrest within the country—which the regime has brutally suppressed—Zarif and other officials have celebrated the Trump administration's failure to bring its allies on board with "maximum pressure."

"Trump's foreign policy has been among the most unsuccessful ones in the history of the U.S.," Zarif claimed. "As a powerful state, U.S. behavior and bullying have forced other countries into acquiescing to its demands."

Iran began violating parts of the JCPOA piecemeal after Trump withdrew from the deal. Tehran ended all compliance after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January. Trump critics have warned that the president's uncompromising strategy has left Iran closer to nuclear weapons than it was when he came to office, and the region more unstable.

Iran has expanded its low-enriched uranium stockpile to 12 times the 202.8-kilogram limit allowed by the JCPOA. As of November 2, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had a stockpile of 2,442.9 kilograms (5,385.7 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, up from 2,105.4 kilograms on August 25.

The IAEA also said Iran is enriching uranium to a purity of up to 4.5 percent—higher than the 3.67 percent agreed under the JCPOA. Uranium enriched to around 90 percent can be used in weapons, but can be used in nuclear power if enriched to between 3 and 5 percent.

Before signing the JCPOA, Iran had enriched uranium up to 20 percent. The technical step to get from here to weapons-grade 90 percent is relatively short. Tehran had more than 7,000 kilograms of enriched uranium at this time.

It remains unclear how close Iran is to building a nuclear weapon, if it decided to do so. The Arms Control Association has said Tehran has double the material needed, but IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said last month that the regime does not yet have sufficient material. Iranian officials have long maintained that they are only interested in peaceful nuclear power, not nuclear arms.

Iran has said it is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if all other signatories do the same. Zarif told Iran Daily: "If Biden seeks to return to the JCPOA, he will have to fulfill U.S. commitments under the deal and lift the sanctions...The U.S. is definitely in no position to set out conditions for us."

Trump still has a window to take further action against Iran. The New York Times reported that Trump requested military options to hit Iranian nuclear facilities days after the election, though was talked out of such action by Pentagon leaders.

The administration still may decide to push ahead with a strike. It could also opt for more sanctions or launch covert efforts like cyberattacks.

Zarif dismissed Trump's Iran strikes, threats and wider strategy as political theater. "All the measures and policies Trump adopted after his win in [the] November 2016 election, had been designed in a way to guarantee his reelection," he claimed.

"Unlike previous presidential elections in the U.S., this one is not suggestive of a smooth and peaceful transition of power," Zarif said of Trump's longshot efforts to dispute the results of this month's election.

"This characteristic has been and still is, part of Trump's personality. He is ready to strain every nerve to stay in power."

Biden will be faced with picking up the pieces when he comes to office in January. But he too might have a small window to reach an accord with Tehran. Moderate President Hassan Rouhani's term ends in June.

The man who signed the JCPOA will likely be replaced by a hardline conservative candidate, possibly even one from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A military takeover of the presidency might result in more posturing and less diplomacy. But it is also possible that an impoverished Iranian regime grappling with social unrest will do whatever it can to secure sanctions relief, giving the new president more room to reach a deal with the White House.

Iran, Donald Trump, foreign policy, Javad Zarif
People walk near a monument dedicated to Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini along Enghelab Square in the centre of Iran's capital Tehran on November 8, 2020. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty