‘Iran fighting to survive’ Trump says on Rosh Hashanah greeting call

JTA

(JTA) — The U.S. pullout of the nuclear deal with Iran triggered a European desertion of that country that is threatening its regime’s survival, President Donald Trump said.

Trump spoke about the issue Thursday during the presidential telephone call for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, with his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner; U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Freidman; the well-known attorney and law professor Alan Dershowitz and former Senator Norn Coleman. Many rabbis and Jewish faith leaders listened in on the call.

“Now the Europeans are finally leaving. They’re finally saying, ‘All right, look, this is just not working.’ You know, they tried to play hardball for a little while but they’re now leaving and they’re doing the right thing,” Trump said during the 20-minute conversation.

The French car maker Peugeot-Citroen in June said it intended to leave the Iranian market for fear of US sanctions. Other European corporations that said they would leave Iran following the deal’s termination in May include the French energy firm Total; the Danish shipping giant Maersk; the German conglomerate Siemens and the Russian energy firm Lukoil.

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American corporations, including General Electric; Honeywell and Boeing, also announced they were leaving Iran following the U.S. reversal of the deal in May. The Asian conglomerates Reliance, Mazda and Hyundai suspended contracts with Iran.

Trump has said Iran did not honor the spirit of the deal it reached with the United States under former president Barack Obama in 2015. It offered Iran sanctions relief in return for its scaling back of parts of its nuclear program. Israel and Saudi Arabia opposed the deal, arguing its too soft and that its 10-year time limitation period meant Iran could build nuclear weapons once it expires. But Obama, E.U. leaders and other advocates of the deal said it was the best way to block Iran’s path to developing a nuclear bomb.

When the Unite States pulled out of the deal, it exposed European and other firms that keep doing business with Iran to U.S. sanctions, forcing several of these firms to leave Iran. These developments, compounded by low oil prices, sent the Iranian currency into a freefall. The rial hit a record low this weeks of around 150,000 against the dollar, compared to about 3,500 rial for one dollar in Sept. 2016.

In the phone call Thursday, Trump said he did not anticipate the full scope of his actions on Iran.

“It turned out to have a much bigger impact than I thought. I did it primarily because of nuclear, but I knew it wouldn’t be great for their economy. I had no idea how devastating it would be,” he said.

But in 2016, Trump said, “it was a question of when will they [Iran] take over the entire Middle East. And that probably includes Israel, in the mind of a lot of people.”

Today, “they are now really looking to survive,” Trump added about Iran. The United States would be prepared to negotiate a new deal with Iran, if the latter seeks talks, he also said.

Trump also said that his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, “didn’t like terminating” the deal. “I played the game for a while; I wish I did it sooner. But I played that little game for a while, and then ultimately I decided I’m just doing it. And I did it,” Trump said.

In the talk, Trump and his interlocutors revisited major policy changes vis-à-vis Israel since he stepped into office, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The speakers thanks Trump for doing his. Trump said he encountered so much resistance from world leaders he stopped taking their calls over the issue.

He also noted the United States’ announcement that it would pull out of the United Nations Human Rights Council over its anti-Israel bias and the decision to permanently stop making contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Palestinians.

Trump reiterated his belief that moving the embassy to Jerusalem took the subject “off the table,” clearing a path to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has said it will not engage in such talks, saying the United States is not an honest broker.

“I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table,” Trump said about this issue.

Fro Rosh Hashanah, Trump said: “I send my warmest wishes to the Jewish people in the United States and around the world as we approach the High Holy Days. I want to express my deep admiration and gratitude for the extraordinary contributions of the Jewish people to the United States and to the world.”

Over the centuries, he added, “the Jewish people have suffered unthinkable persecution, yet you have not only endured, you have thrived and flourished as an example of humankind.”

His own “connection to Judaism is also personal,” Trump said. “I am the very proud father of a Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and my son-in-law, who I’m very proud of also — I will say that very loudly — Jared, and my several Jewish grandchildren, namely three beautiful Jewish grandchild that I love.”

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