Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slammed the Iran nuclear deal for its limited scope and eventual sunset date Wednesday, and said the Trump administration is conducting an exhaustive review of its Iran policy.
The secretary’s rebuke came one day after his State Department certified that Iran is complying with the deal. The decision to certify likely follows from the administration being knee-deep in an intensive review of the agreement and uncertain about next steps, top proliferation experts told THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
“The [nuclear deal] fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state,” Tillerson said Wednesday. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”
The secretary denounced the nuclear deal for not addressing a range of Iranian non-nuclear activities, including support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and funding for Palestinian terrorist organizations.
“This was one of the mistakes in how that agreement was put together,” he told reporters. “It completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses.”
Late Tuesday, Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal.
The president must by law report to Congress about Iranian compliance with the deal every three months. If the administration does not submit a compliance certification or determines that Iran is in “material breach” of the deal, Congress has the ability to quickly re-impose sanctions lifted under the deal. The certification drew the ire of some in the White House who would have preferred to see no certification filed and the deal subsequently done away with.
The administration likely issued the certification to meet the conditions of the law and avoid a crisis while reviewing its Iran policy, a top proliferation expert told TWS.
“This particular certification does not mean much, if anything,” said David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security.
“The administration is not in a position to decide now not only that a violation has occurred but also that that violation rises to the level of a “material breach,”” Albright said. “They punted, despite the discomfort of certifying something they do not really believe in.”
“The next certification hopefully will reveal more about the administration’s views and the results of the review,” he said. “The Obama administration was highly lenient towards Iran’s cheating. I would expect the Trump administration to be much tougher.”
If the administration had not issued the certification, the diplomatic fallout could have been significant, Albright added.
Tillerson said this week that the administration is conducting a broad review of its Iran policy, including the nuclear agreement and whether to maintain related sanctions relief.
The complexity of the nuclear deal means that the review will take some time, said Olli Heinonen, a nearly three-decade veteran of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Some of the undertakings, such as design work on nuclear weapons, [are] hard to verify with a high level of confidence,” he said.
Similar non-detailed certifications are probably on the horizon, he added.
“We will likely see in [the] near future statements similar to that in the letter of the Secretary.”
The review likely covers a range of non-nuclear activities, Heinonen said.
“The review is likely broader, consisting [of] the nuclear deal itself, Iran’s ballistic missile activities, but also its behavior in the region and beyond when it comes to the support of terrorist and other military activities or issues related to Iran’s human rights records,” he said.
Administration officials have also reportedly been considering broadening sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard