Trump Says He’s Made His Iran Deal Decision

Updated on
  • Iran’s Rouhani dismisses ‘rogue newcomer’ threatening accord
  • EU foreign policy chief vows to stick with 2015 agreement

Trump: Iran Nuclear Deal Is 'Embarrassment' to U.S.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the U.S. case to European allies about flaws in the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, hours after President Donald Trump said he’s made his decision about whether to walk away from the pact -- but wouldn’t reveal what it was.

Tillerson emphasized that the agreement hasn’t stopped Iran from playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East, with its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its development of ballistic missiles and its funding of terrorism.

Rex Tillerson on Sept. 20.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

“We clearly have significant issues with the agreement,” Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday after meeting in New York with his counterparts from Iran and the six world powers that signed the agreement. “It’s pretty difficult to say that the expectations of the parties that negotiated this agreement have been met.”

Tillerson spoke hours after Trump declared three times to reporters in New York “I have decided,” when asked whether he intends to yank the U.S. from the pact signed by China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the European Union after months of agonizing negotiations.

Trump, who called the deal “an embarrassment to the United States” in his combative speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, has until October 15 to tell Congress if Iran is sticking to the terms of the deal and whether the agreement remains in the U.S. national security interest. He and his advisers contend that the accord simply postpones the day when Iran will be able to develop a nuclear weapon because many of its toughest restrictions expire in 2025 or 2030.

The U.S. stance has left it isolated against the six other nations that agreed to the deal.

Speaking after the evening meeting where the U.S. laid out its case, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the group would make sure the deal sticks even if the U.S. walks away. She said the world didn’t need another nuclear nonproliferation crisis along with the struggle to contain North Korea’s own ambition to obtain atomic weapons.

“The agreement is working and delivering for its purpose,” Mogherini said. “We already have one potential nuclear crisis -- we definitely don’t need to go into a second one.”

In recent weeks, U.S. diplomats have approached European officials to see if they would join in demanding an extension to the limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment that will expire in coming years.

Tillerson said that after Trump made his comment, British Prime Minister
Theresa May asked “asked him if he would share it with her and he said no.”

In his comments to reporters, Tillerson said the U.S. has been “making the case” to increase pressure on Iran and that other countries are “now looking more carefully and seriously” at doing so, though he didn’t specify what that might entail. The meeting was Tillerson’s first with Iran’s foreign minister, and Tillerson described the encounter as “matter of fact.”

“There was no yelling, we didn’t throw shoes at one another,” he said.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told the UN on Wednesday that a “rogue newcomer” to politics threatens to destroy the nuclear deal. Iran “will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party,” he said.

The accord “belongs to the international community in its entirety, and not to only one or two countries,” Rouhani said. He told reporters later that “Iran rejects any renegotiation of the deal. If anyone exits the agreement it means our hand is completely open to take any action we see beneficial for us.”

Read More: A QuickTake Q&A on whether the U.S. will torpedo the Iran deal

Most countries backing the agreement cite findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran is meeting the letter of its responsibilities under the accord. The 2015 deal provided an easing of international economic sanctions in return for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in New York that she met Wednesday morning with Rouhani “and she reiterated the importance of the deal.”

The most direct rebuttal to Trump came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said in his UN speech Tuesday that the Iran agreement is “robust” and “to put it into question without anything to replace it is a grave error.”

Macron’s remarks were an ominous sign for Tillerson’s efforts because proponents of toughening the deal had pointed to France as the country least satisfied with the accord when it was reached and most likely to get on board for changes. But the French government has changed since then.

“If we denounce the accord, do we better manage nuclear proliferation?” Macron said in his speech to the General Assembly. “I don’t think so.”

Still, Macron did leave some room for meeting Trump partway on Iran, saying on Wednesday that he was willing to discuss new measures to limit Iran’s ballistic missile development, begin talks on what happens after 2025 and discuss Iran’s role in regional conflicts -- all without undoing the original accord.

In addition to requiring the support-- or at least acquiescence -- of Iran, any reopening the deal would require support from Russia and China. Speaking to reporters Wednesday after meeting with Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Trump’s stance on the nuclear deal “very worrying” and said his country would defend the deal.

— With assistance by Margaret Talev, Robert Hutton, Henry Meyer, and Gregory Viscusi

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