President Donald Trump has ignited fears of a new Middle East crisis after confirming he will pull the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Describing Iran as the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” in an address on Wednesday morning (AEST), Mr Trump pledged to reimpose the highest level of economic sanctions on Iran.
The decision was met with concern from America’s NATO allies and support from Israel, amid warnings the decision is likely to raise the risk of conflict in the Middle East and disrupt global oil supplies.
“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Mr Trump said at the White House.
“It didn’t bring calm. It didn’t bring peace. And it never will.”
The 2015 deal, worked out by the United States, five other international powers and Iran, eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program.
“It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” he said.
“The Iran deal is defective at its core.”
Mr Trump said the agreement, the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama, does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 nor its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
“In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a televised address immediately after the decision that Israel fully supports Mr Trump’s announcement.
Israel opens bomb shelters
The Israeli army instructed authorities in the Golan Heights, in the north of the country, to open civilian shelters after detecting what it called “irregular activity” of Iranian forces in Syria.
The Israel Army statement warned that “any aggression against Israel will be met with a severe response”.
Little more than an hour later, Syrian television reported an Israeli airstrike near the capital Damascus, saying its air defences shot down two missiles.
The British-based observatory said the missiles killed nine people and targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belong to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
Iran has ruled out renegotiating the nuclear agreement and threatened to retaliate if Washington pulled out.
“If there is an attack it might not be immediately clear it’s Iran,” one official was quoted as saying.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will take a few weeks to decide how to respond to the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
But in a speech shortly after Mr Trump’s announcement, he said he had ordered the country’s “atomic industry organisation to be fully prepared for subsequent measures if needed so that in case of need we will start our industrial enrichment without limitations”.
The leaders of America’s NATO allies Britain, Germany and France immediately urged the US not to take any actions that could prevent them and Iran from continuing to implement the agreement.
Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron issued a joint statement urging Iran to “show restraint” and continue fulfilling its own obligations such as cooperating with inspections.
Mr Obama, who helped architect the deal, released a lengthy statement, calling Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw “misguided”.
“We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA,” he said, referring to the deal’s official title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Mr Trump “absolutely made the right decision” to leave the Iran nuclear deal.
“This was a terrible deal that only allowed Iran’s bad international conduct to worsen,” she said in a statement.
Renewing sanctions would make it much harder for Iran to sell its oil abroad or use the international banking system.