Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson slammed the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday — just a day after the Trump administration had begrudgingly acknowledged that Tehran is complying with the terms of the 2015 multinational accord negotiated under former President Obama.
In a rare press briefing at State Department headquarters, Mr. Tillerson said the deal “only delays [Iran‘s] goal of becoming a nuclear state” and that President Trump has ordered a multi-agency review of Iran’s compliance and the state of U.S. sanctions on Tehran.
“[It’s] the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea,” Mr. Tillerson added. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”
But Mr. Tillerson stopped short of saying the White House plans to pull out of the nuclear accord any time soon, a move that would likely anger the five other world powers — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — who signed onto it in 2015.
However, his comments underscored the Trump administration’s desire to put Iran on the front burner and take a far more aggressive posture toward Tehran’s provocative moves across the Middle East than the Obama administration did.
But Mr. Tillerson offered few specifics on how U.S. policy may change.
In February, the administration imposed a slate of new economic sanctions against Iranian individuals and companies in response to ballistic missile tests not covered by the nuclear deal but that the White House says violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Mr. Tillerson made no mention of the sanctions Wednesday. Instead, he said the administration is committed to a deep review of U.S. policy toward Iran. “Once we have [it] finalized,” he said, “we will meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction.”
The U.S. approach is likely to involve joint operations with Saudi Arabia — one of Iran’s main rivals for influence in the Middle East.
A top Saudi military general said recently that Riyadh had secured a commitment from the Trump administration to significantly increase U.S. intelligence-sharing and defense cooperation against Iran-backed proxy militias and other Iranian allies across the Middle East.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri said Defense Secretary James Mattis had vowed to “increase the cooperation” on a range of fronts to counter Iran.
Mr. Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, spoke fondly of Saudi Arabia in remarks earlier Wednesday at the second-annual U.S.-Saudi Arabia CEO Summit in Washington. “When U.S. companies invest in the Saudi economy, everyone wins,” he said.
“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel,” he said.
Mr. Tillerson’s comments came after the Trump administration issued a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday certifying that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to curb its nuclear program — long suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons — in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
The certification, which must be sent to lawmakers every 90 days under the terms of the accord, was the first issued under the Trump administration and its deadline was midnight Tuesday.
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