US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tore into a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it only delayed the nation’s ambition to gain weapons of mass destruction, and did not take into account its role in sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing other nations.
“This deal represents the same failed approach of the past,” Tillerson said on Wednesday at a hastily arranged news conference in Washington.
The tough talk followed the most tangible step taken by Tillerson on Iran: certifying to the US Congress late on Tuesday that the Islamic Republic is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal, a finding required by law every 90 days.
Tillerson’s announcement was the strongest signal to date that US President Donald Trump might walk away from the nuclear deal.
Trump this week ordered his National Security Council to review whether to reimpose sanctions that were eased under the accord because of Iran’s continued support of terrorism.
Tillerson said in his statement that the review would determine whether the suspension of sanctions “is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
“Worn-out US accusations can’t mask its admission of Iran’s compliance” with the nuclear agreement, which is forcing the US administration “to change course and fulfill its own commitments,” Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif yesterday said on his Twitter account.
Trump has panned what he has called “the horrible Iran deal” reached by the US and five other world powers under his predecessor, former US president Barack Obama.
During last year’s presidential campaign, he called for dismantling or renegotiating it.
Republicans in the US Congress have also been critical, advocating new sanctions on Iran for supporting terrorism and for its ballistic missile program.
Under the international agreement, Iran is allowed to enrich and store some uranium for energy production, although it had to reduce its uranium stockpile by 96 percent, idle many of its enrichment centrifuges and pour concrete into its heavy-water nuclear reactor.
The Obama administration insisted the provisions would slow the time it would take Iran to produce nuclear weapons.
Opponents of the agreement have called for renegotiating the accord with the goal of making permanent its 15-year moratorium on uranium enrichment close to the level needed to make a bomb, but reimposing sanctions that were explicitly tied to Iran’s nuclear program — as Tillerson suggested in his announcement — would face particular opposition from the US’ European allies and give the government in Tehran grounds to walk away from the accord.
“The deal is working and there’s absolutely no reason to pull away from it,” Barbara Slavin, acting director at the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday. “The US would be isolated from the rest of the world. Iran is abiding by it.”
She said the review was a fig leaf to cover a decision by the Trump administration to abide by the Iran accord, if grudgingly.
“Every administration, when it doesn’t know what the hell to do, reviews things,” Slavin said.