CNN’s Dan Merica
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Iran is rebuilding its military equipment and preparing to aid its allies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, which risk being attacked by the United States, United Nations and Israel if the global nuclear deal is scuttled by Trump administration, observers say.
The stakes are even higher for Iran’s Arab neighbors like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which may also be in Iran’s firing line should the country violate any commitments Trump’s administration may levy.
While Iran denies any intention to build nuclear weapons, an unsuccessful missile test at the end of May shows a continued determination to build up Iran’s missile program that is a red line for Trump, some analysts say.
The US President has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran because he says the country violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by testing ballistic missiles. “Iran has been given more than $100 billion in benefits since the deal, yet the country’s economy remains weak,” Trump wrote in a column Monday in the New York Times.
The last time there was such discussion of walking away was in 2014, when Barack Obama’s administration feared the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the agreement with Iran signed by six world powers that lifted economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on the Iranian nuclear program — could be scuttled.
Trump’s decision to scuttle the deal has thrown diplomacy into disarray since he handed letters to Congress, the White House and the European Union, asking them to restrict Tehran’s military activity.
Under the agreement, most US sanctions remain in place but the Trump administration has said it will allow waivers of some that will allow sanctions to be reimposed if Iran violates the deal.
The US Defense Department previously said there is no direct evidence Iran was in violation of the nuclear deal. But on Sunday a Pentagon spokesman said: “We are not aware of any Iranian violations of the agreement.”
In a commentary published earlier this month in the Financial Times, Frank Gaffney, an international relations analyst and founder of the Center for Security Policy think tank, blamed the lack of evidence of Iran’s violation on the 2016 agreement, which he said “made it difficult for Washington to pursue Iran in violation.”
Gaffney told CNN that the recent missile test points to a continuing commitment to what he considers Iran’s leadership’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb: “It does suggest that Iran has decided it is making a decision to stay in violation of the agreement. Whether it intends to go ahead with a nuclear weapon at this time is unclear.”
Ebrahim Rahimpour, a representative of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized the “unconstructive use of American threats” against the deal.
He told Reuters the missile test was “not in violation of the agreement.”
US analysts say the fact that Iran is pushing ahead with its military build-up serves as justification for Trump to pull out of the agreement.
“We all see that the sanctions relief did not accomplish what the US promised and what they sought to do with that deal was to encourage Iran to develop nuclear capabilities because Iran is able to pursue weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile capabilities,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told CNN.
“Iran maintains a large and expanding military apparatus that is contributing to regional instability. That is true with the nuclear deal but certainly more pronounced than it is on its own.”
Iranian officials refuse to discuss the country’s regional ambitions, but in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in April, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran wants to “preserve regional and international security by doing things that are very restrained.”
Zarif said the Iranian people do not accept the “lack of stability and security” in their region.
– CNN’s Patricios Meridia contributed to this report.