The former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday criticized the Trump administration’s recent escalation of tensions with Iran – saying she “can’t imagine a more dangerous situation than the one we’re in now.”
Speaking at Dartmouth College, Clinton said the Trump administration’s recent sanctions against Iran and the deployment of an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf have only served to further erode relations between Washington and Tehran that started when the United States withdrew from the controversial, Obama-era nuclear deal.
“Now we have an administration that doesn’t believe in agreements,” Clinton said. “The Iranians have said, ‘If you’re not going to abide by agreements, neither are we, and we’re going to start enriching uranium.'”
She added, “I worry this is some decision on the part of this administration to provoke something.”
President Trump, withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran a year ago, recently invoked sanctions to target the country’s steel, aluminum, copper and iron sectors, which provide foreign currency earnings for a sagging economy
The White House said it would continue its "maximum pressure" campaign on the Iranian government until it stops supporting terror groups, ends destabilizing activities in the region, gives up any nuclear weapons efforts and ends its development of ballistic missiles.
"We call on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, change its destructive behavior, respect the rights of its people and return in good faith to the negotiating table," Trump said.
The United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and the European Union signed a deal with Iran in 2015 that lifted international sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program, including restricting uranium enrichment for 10 years.
Clinton, who had left her post as secretary of state by that time, praised the deal negotiated during the Obama administration.
“To go from going from knowing the Iranians were developing a nuclear weapon to knowing they’re not gave me a huge sense of relief,” she said Wednesday. “We were able to put a lid on that.”
One year ago, Trump pulled out of the agreement, which he has criticized as "the worst deal in history." He said the accord should have restrained Iran's ballistic missile program and curbed what his administration considers Tehran's malign activities in the region.
The administration reimposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the agreement.
The other nations have remained in the deal and have tried to provide Iran with enough economic incentives to keep the agreement alive.
Iran threatened on Wednesday to enrich its uranium stockpile closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has stopped its sale of excess uranium and heavy water as a first step — something required under the deal.
In 60 days, if no new deal is in place, Iran said it'll increase its enrichment of uranium beyond 3.67 percent, which is permitted by the accord. Rouhani did not say how far Iran would be willing to enrich, although the head of its nuclear program again reiterated Iran could reach 20 percent enrichment within four days. Once a country enriches uranium to around 20 percent, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved.
"If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.
Iran has continued abiding by the stipulations of the deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but had been expressing increasing frustration with the inability of Europeans to provide economic relief, culminating in Wednesday's threat to resume greater enrichment of uranium.
Despite Rouhani's threatening rhetoric and the now-ticking clock, Europeans were cautiously hoping the Iranian president was not on the verge of breaking the deal but instead seeking to show strength domestically as the economy slumps.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his office had been in contact with all the others involved in the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, since the announcement to see what might be done to get Tehran to back down.
"Our opinion is and remains: We want to preserve the agreement, in particular to prevent Iran from coming into possession of nuclear weapons," he told reporters. "We don't need further escalation in the region."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.