Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that the landmark nuclear deal has failed to squash Iran’s ability and determination to develop atomic weapons, arguing that the country’s ambitions still threaten international peace and security.
“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said in remarks to reporters in the formal setting of the State Department’s Treaty Room. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”
Tillerson’s strong criticism of Iran and the nuclear deal came one day after the State Department officially notified Congress that Iran has met all its commitments under the agreement, a certification required every 90 days. This is the first time the Trump administration has done so, in a letter Tillerson wrote to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and released just before the midnight deadline.
The White House is conducting a top-to-bottom review of Iran policy, including an evaluation of the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. As a candidate, President Trump frequently called it the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But once in office, it has been unclear whether he intends to break it or leave it in place.
If the administration were to decide to walk away or otherwise renege on its commitments, it would open the door for Iran to cast aside its own promises and resume the unfettered development of its nuclear program. Iran has denied even considering the development of nuclear weapons.
In a slap at the Obama administration, which negotiated alongside five other nations to reach the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, Tillerson declared Wednesday, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”
Congress has introduced bills extending U.S. sanctions against Iran related to its alleged support of terrorism, human rights violations and missile tests. Lawmakers have put the legislation on pause, however, because of the impact the bills could have in Iran’s presidential election, which is scheduled for next month. President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who pressed for the deal against domestic opposition, is seeking reelection. In addition, the U.S. Treasury has announced sanctions against individuals and companies affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The historic agreement was negotiated with Iran by the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, with help from the European Union. It did not address Iran’s alleged support of terrorism or its dismal human rights record, but focused on its commitment not to build a nuclear weapon for at least a decade and to open its facilities to U.N. inspections.
In exchange, international and U.S. sanctions on nuclear-related issues were lifted and billions of dollars in Iranian assets were unfrozen when the deal was implemented in January 2016. With Iran getting most of its benefits upfront, even critics of the agreement have said the United States gains little by breaking the deal now. Iran has said that sanctions relief never gave it the economic boost it craved, and it has blamed the United States for not doing enough to allow U.S. businesses and banks to set up shop in Iran.
In his remarks Wednesday, Tillerson focused not only on the nuclear deal, but also on what he called Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.”
He specifically cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and for Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as hostility to Israel, the harassment of U.S. naval vessels plying the Persian Gulf and cyberattacks against the United States and its allies in the Gulf.
“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said.