U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on April 19 sharply criticized a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it "only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state" and does not address "alarming ongoing provocations" by Tehran in the Middle East.
Tillerson said a 90-day review of the deal by the Trump administration will not only look at whether Iran is complying with the deal, as the State Department certified it was on April 18, but also whether Tehran's behavior in the region continues to undermine U.S. interests.
The deal "fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran," Tillerson said at a news conference. "It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state."
While Iran has repeatedly said it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Tillerson said Iran's "nuclear ambitions are a threat to the world's peace and security... An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it."
The deal between Iran and major global powers, including the United States, imposed restrictions on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Tillerson said the agreement made the mistake of "buying off a power that has nuclear ambitions" for a short time and then leaving the problem to future generations to resolve.
"The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran," he said.
Tillerson said the Trump administration is reviewing the deal in light of these and other concerns.
"A comprehensive Iran policy requires we address all of the threats posed by Iran, and it is clear there are many," he said. "We have to look at Iran in a very comprehensive way in terms of the threat it poses in all areas of the region and the world."
Tillerson's harshest comments to date on Iran came one day after he appeared to take a softer approach by certifying that Tehran had complied with the nuclear deal in a notice to Congress that also extended the deal's sanctions relief for Tehran.
Tillerson on April 19 appeared to be siding with the deal's strongest critics, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, which opposed the agreement because it did not entirely shut down Iran's nuclear industry or address other alleged aggression by Iran in the region.
Earlier on April 19, on a visit to Riyadh, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also leveled strong criticism at Tehran.
"Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran," Mattis said. "So right now, what we're seeing is the nations in the region...trying to checkmate Iran and the amount of disruption and instability they can cause."
Even the nuclear deal's proponents have acknowledged that it has limitations. Key restrictions it places on Iran's enrichment of uranium for potential use in nuclear bombs, for example, are scheduled to end in a decade.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who viewed the deal as one of his major achievements, acknowledged that it did not address concerns about Iran's role in regional wars in Syria and Yemen or its continued development of ballistic missiles.
Obama argued that the deal was narrowly tailored to prevent what he said was the imminent emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran. After the deal was negotiated, he worked with Congress to maintain U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's missile development and alleged human rights violations.
Iran has yet to comment on the Trump administration's latest round of criticism, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has warned that Tehran would retaliate if the United States breached the nuclear agreement.