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Iran's enhanced nuclear capabilities are "the direct result" of U.S. exit from 2015 agreement: Senator

Akiko Fujita

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) blamed the Trump Administration for Iran’s enhanced nuclear capability, one day after Tehran threatened to exceed the enriched uranium cap set forward by the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This is the direct result of the Trump administration ripping up the Iran nuclear agreement that had been negotiated by President Obama and our European allies,” Van Hollen told Yahoo Finance.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been building since the Trump administration exited that nuclear deal, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Since then, the Trump administration has reimposed U.S. sanctions and threatened them on allies who do not follow suit.

Bilateral strains escalated even higher last week, after Washington accused Tehran of orchestrating attacks on two international oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, prompting the U.S. Department of Defense to announce it would deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the Mideast, Monday night.

Van Hollen has been among the fiercest critics of the administration’s Iran policy, likening its actions to the lead-up to the Iraq War, under then President George W. Bush. Last month, Van Hollen and three other lawmakers, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-V), sent a letter to the White House accusing the Trump of “inflating threats and bending intelligence to justify dangerous, predetermined policies.”

“You have people like John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who have been itching to go to war with Iran for years,” Van Hollen said. “I very much worry that he wants to take advantage of this situation to pursue what has been his longtime objective.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dismissed the U.S. military’s increased presence in the region on Tuesday, saying the “other side is not a nation.”

“Those facing us are a group of politicians with little experience,” he said.

In an interview with Time magazine, Trump downplayed the threat posed by Iran, saying that while he was prepared to take military action to stop the country from having a nuclear bomb, Iran’s hostility toward the U.S. had been diminished since he became president.

“If you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing that [2015] agreement, where it was always ‘death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America,’ I’m not hearing that too much anymore,” Trump said.

As European allies look to preserve the agreement, Van Hollen is calling for the U.S. to de-escalate tensions and rejoin the nuclear deal.

“I hope the administration will take a deep breath here and go back and comply with the agreement and then push harder for better Iranian conduct,” he said.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @AkikoFujita

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