U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that changes are needed in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal before the administration of President Donald Trump will agree to continue supporting it.
In comments that suggested the United States could withdraw from the deal unless changes are made, Tillerson said the administration is particularly concerned about the deal's "sunset" clauses.
Those clauses allow restrictions put on Iranian nuclear activities such as uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief to expire after 10 years in 2025.
The clauses are "the most glaring flaw" in the deal, he said.
"It's not a stiff enough agreement. It doesn't slow their program enough," he told Fox News September 19. "We can almost start the countdown clock as to when they will resume their nuclear weapons capability."
"If we're going to stick with the Iran deal there has to be changes made to it. The sunset provision simply is not a sensible way forward," he told Fox.
"It's just simply...kicking the can down the road again for someone in the future to have to deal with," he said.
Tillerson’s interview came hours after President Donald Trump gave a blunt speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in which he called the deal "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told CBS News September 20 that, despite the tough rhetoric, Trump's speech should not be read as a signal that Washington planned on abandoning the deal.
“The United States is not safer because of it, I think if you look at, yes, on one side it deals with the nuclear development, the [nuclear deal] which everyone talks about, but U.S. law requires it to look at other things which Iran is in violation of," Haley said.
The comments by Trump and two of his top diplomats come as the administration faces an October 15 deadline for deciding whether to certify that Iran is complying with the pact. If it does not, the U.S. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal.
Tillerson said the United States will seek the help of allies in Europe in trying to persuade Iran to reopen negotiations over the expiring provisions.
"We do need the support of our allies, our European allies and others, to make the case as well to Iran that this deal really needs to be revisited," he told Fox.
Macron Suggests Reopening Negotiations
Tillerson's comments came one day after reports that French President Emmanuel Macron, a staunch supporter of the deal, had suggested reopening negotiations over the expiring provisions in separate talks with his U.S. and Iranian counterparts.
In a speech before the UN on September 19, Macron said any decision to abandon the deal would be "irresponsible" and "a grave error."
But he acknowledged critics' concerns that the agreement does not cover Iran's nuclear activities after 2025 or address other concerns in the West about Iran's ballistic missile program and involvement in regional conflicts.
Macron called for diplomacy to address those issues, saying: "Let's be stricter, but let's not unravel agreements that have already brought security."
In his September 19 speech to the United Nations, his first, Trump attacked Tehran, calling it a "murderous regime"
"The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy," Trump said, describing the country as an "economically-depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos."
"It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction."
Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who was scheduled to give his own speech at the UN on September 20, responded to Trump’s criticism, telling reporters that Washington would forfeit the world’s trust if it exits the nuclear deal, which also was signed by France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.
'Unworthy Of A Reply'
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Trump's remarks as "shameless" and "ignorant."
"Especially in the part where he mentioned the great Iranian nation, his comments were without content, just empty slogans that are not worth reacting to," Zarif told Iran's state-run Fars news agency.
In an English-language post to Twitter, Zarif said, "Trump's ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times, not the 21st-century UN -- unworthy of a reply. Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about the hardening U.S. stance against the nuclear deal after talks with Tillerson.
"It is particularly worrying that the United States, through its President Trump, has once again confirmed its unbending stance and fiercely criticized the joint action plan, which allowed eliminating the Iranian nuclear issue," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s remarks, however, saying in his address before the UN that he had “never heard a bolder or more courageous speech” in more than 30 years.
Netanyahu also echoed the U.S. demand for renegotiation of the expiring provisions of the deal.
"Change it, or cancel it. Fix it, or nix it," he said.