ISTANBUL • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that his government remains committed to a nuclear deal with world powers, despite the United States' decision to withdraw.
But he added that it is also ready to resume uranium enrichment should the accord no longer offer benefits.
Mr Rouhani, who had made the deal his signature achievement, spoke following US President Donald Trump's announcement that the US would reimpose wide-ranging sanctions on Iran.
The removal of those sanctions, including on the Iranian oil and banking sectors, had been key to persuading Iran to accept limits on its nuclear programme.
The Iranian leader said on Tuesday that he had directed his diplomats to negotiate with the deal's remaining signatories - including European countries, Russia and China - and that the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), could survive without the US.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday called Mr Trump's comments on withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear agreement "silly and superficial", and said he did not trust the European countries that were sticking with the agreement.
It makes people angry. Sanctions impact the people, not the regime. People worry it will be even more difficult to find medicine when they are sick.
A YOUNG WOMAN in Teheran responding to the US withdrawal from the pact.
Raising the issue of Iran's nuclear programme was an excuse to curb the Islamic Republic's regional influence and missile programme, Mr Khamenei said.
Accepting negotiations on its missiles and regional influence would mean Iran has to make endless concessions, he said.
"We accepted the nuclear deal, but the enmity against the Islamic Republic did not end," Mr Khamenei said, adding that Iran needs to preserve its nuclear programme because the country will need 20,000 megawatts of electricity in the next few years.
Mr Rouhani warned that Iran would begin enriching uranium beyond the levels allowed in the deal if the government finds the country's needs are not being met. He said Iran would decide in "a few weeks" whether to ramp up enrichment.
It was a stark warning from an otherwise pragmatic politician who has long championed diplomacy with the West.
China yesterday voiced regret over Mr Trump's decision and vowed to "safeguard" the agreement, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was deeply concerned over the US decision.
Mr Yukiya Amano, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which polices the JCPOA, said yesterday that Iran is continuing to implement its nuclear commitments under the deal.
He stressed that the agency was "closely monitoring developments" related to the deal, reiterating that "Iran is subject to the world's most robust nuclear verification regime".
On the ground, Iranians reacted with a mix of sadness, resignation and defiance to the US withdrawal.
"It makes people angry. Sanctions impact the people, not the regime. People worry it will be even more difficult to find medicine when they are sick. This was an issue in the past," said one young woman in Teheran.
Others were proudly defiant.
"The Iranian people are tired from all the pressure but the new sanctions cannot be worse than last time, because now the Europeans are not on America's side and neither are the Asians," said Mr Mohammad Reza Behzadian, former head of Teheran's chamber of commerce.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE