The Trump administration is putting Iran on notice … again.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took harsh aim at the Islamic Republic on Wednesday, accusing it of being a terrorist-sponsoring, human-rights violating, destabilizing force with long-term nuclear ambitions akin to those of North Korea.
But while Tillerson reiterated that President Donald Trump’s administration was reviewing the United States’ overall Iran policy, he gave no indication America was preparing to pull out of the nuclear deal the Obama administration and several foreign governments struck with Iran nearly two years ago.
“In deed and in propaganda, Iran foments discord,” Tillerson said in a rare appearance before reporters at the State Department. “An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.”
Tillerson’s verbal assault, only a day after he declared Iran was meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal, was the latest example of the Trump administration’s hostile posture toward the Islamist regime in Iran. It marks a sharp reversal from President Barack Obama’s attempts to engage the longtime U.S. nemesis, possibly in an attempt to appeal to U.S. allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have been urging the U.S. to curb Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.
Tillerson’s Wednesday comments echoed those by then-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn shortly after Trump took office, when he told reporters the administration was putting Iran "on notice," and administration officials told reporters that a review of Iran policy was underway.
Flynn spoke shortly after Iran tested a ballistic missile, and the Trump administration soon moved to impose new sanctions on Iran. Tillerson appeared to reference that same missile test during his remarks on Wednesday.
Trump repeatedly criticized Iran during his presidential campaign. Since taking office, he also has tried to bar Iranians from being allowed to visit or immigrate to the United States through a visa ban that targets six Muslim countries.
Late Tuesday, Tillerson, in a press release, declared that while Iran was meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal, Trump had requested an inter-agency review of the agreement to determine whether the United States should stick with the agreement.
Apparently referencing a failed 1994 nuclear deal with North Korea, which now has nuclear weapons, Tillerson said Wednesday that the Iran agreement is “another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions. We just don’t see that that’s a prudent way to be dealing with Iran.”
“The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran," he said, adding that the deal “only delays” Iran’s goal of becoming a nuclear state.
So long as Iran keeps adhering to the nuclear agreement, however, it is unlikely that the Trump administration will pull out. Even some of the nuclear deal’s fiercest critics — including Arab governments allied with the United States — oppose abandoning the accord.
The deal requires Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for the removal of nuclear-related U.S. and international sanctions that had badly damaged its economy. However, the United States has kept in place several sets of sanctions that were imposed for other reasons, such as Iran’s human rights record, its ballistic missile program, and its sponsorship of terrorism. Critics of Iran want the U.S. to beef up those sanctions.