Tillerson Blasts Nuclear Deal, Says Washington's Iran Policy 'Under Review'

Aggressive stance toward Iran as 'leading sponsor of terrorism' comes after State Department reports Iran is complying with nuclear deal

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks about Iran and North Korea after reading a statement at the State Department, on April 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.
MARK WILSON/AFP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson devoted a rare press opportunity on Wednesday to an attack on Iran, calling the Islamic Republic "the world's leading sponsor of terrorism" and declaring that the Trump administration was "conducting across the entire government a review of our Iran policy."

Tillerson also blasted the nuclear deal that was signed with Iran in 2015, and warned that the agreement doesn't achieve its goal of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Tillerson said that the agreement signed by Iran, the Obama administration and five other world powers "fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state." He added that "this deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea. The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran."

Before addressing the nuclear deal, Tillerson meticulously went through what he described as Iran's "alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time." He mentioned Iran's involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. He also said that "Iran has conducted cyber-attacks against the United States and our Gulf partners."

It "has been behind terrorist attacks throughout the rest of the world, including a plot to kill Adel al-Jubeir, who was then the Saudi ambassador to the United States," he said, referring to the current foreign minister.

Tillerson was asked during the press conference why, if this was the administration's position, did the State Department inform Congress just a day before his remarks that Iran was complying with the nuclear accord and therefore sanctions that were imposed on it in the past should not be reinstated. Tillerson replied that the administration was going to review the entire agreement, and that it should be considered in the wider context of Iran's regional activities. 

"The evidence is clear. Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, the region, and the world," he said. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Tillerson spoke at a summit of business executives from Saudi Arabia and the United States. He emphasized the Trump administration's wish to create better ties with Saudi Arabia and to focus both on business and trade cooperation, and on diplomatic and security cooperation to improve the situation in the Middle East. 

"Many of our administration’s cabinet secretaries have already met with their Saudi counterparts, including at Commerce, Defense, Energy, and the Treasury, and we’re working to arrange meetings with other cabinet secretaries as well," Tillerson said. "This administration is committed to using its good offices to help facilitate partnerships between American businesses and Saudi Arabia."

On the security and diplomacy front, Tillerson said that "I’ve already had many opportunities to meet with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. As we work together with Saudi Arabia on some of the most vexing problems confronting Middle East security and stability, we are very encouraged to find in the Saudi leadership a strong and steady partner on these issues as well as on the economic cooperation."

Following Tillerson's remarks on Iran, the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based organization that supported the nuclear deal, put out a statement accusing the secretary of state of placing "the security of the American people and the world at grave risk." The organization added that "public statements lambasting the nuclear deal with Iran as a 'failed approach' and comparing the country with North Korea are reckless and blatantly false."