Tillerson on Iran Deal: ‘Another Example of Buying Off a Power Who Has Nuclear Ambitions … Someone Has to Deal With it Later’

By Patrick Goodenough | April 19, 2017 | 9:39 PM EDT

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Sharply criticizing previous administrations’ approaches to dealing with rogue regimes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday described the Iran nuclear deal as “another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions.”

“We buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later,” he told reporters at the State Department.

“We just don’t see that that’s a prudent way to be dealing with Iran, certainly not in the context of all of their other disruptive activities.”

Tillerson said the negotiated nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

Pointing to the long standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons, he said the JCPOA “represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea.”

And in a swipe at the Obama administration, which touted the JCPOA as a major foreign policy success, Tillerson added, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

Tillerson said President Trump's administration is conducting a “comprehensive review” of its Iran policy, looking at the nuclear deal and other aspects of its conduct in the region.

“Once we’ve finalized our conclusions, we will meet the challenges that Iran poses with clarity and conviction.”

The JCPOA gave Iran tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for implementing steps which the Obama administration said would prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

While negotiating the deal with its P5+1 partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – the administration agreed to leave off the table other issues of concern likely to have made reaching an agreement even more difficult, including Iran’s terror-sponsorship, ballistic missile activities, and domestic human rights abuses.

It argued that although Iran’s support for terror and other troubling regional activity was cause for serious concern, they had to be kept separate from the nuclear talks, where the goal was to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran that would be even more dangerous than it is now.

Tillerson characterized that as a mistaken approach.

“I think this was one of the mistakes in how that agreement was put together, is that it completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses.”

Outlining those concerns, Tillerson cited Tehran’s support for the Assad regime, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Palestinian terrorist groups and militant groups undermining security in Iraq.

He also pointed to Iranian ballistic missile launches, cyberattacks against the U.S. and Gulf states, harassment of U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf, rights abuses and a crackdown on dissent at home, imprisonment of U.S. citizens, and a failed 2011 plot to assassinate the then-Saudi ambassador in Washington.

The Obama administration said the JCPOA was a diplomatic success, cutting off all pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Critics, including some leading non-proliferation experts, say it could allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state once various sunset provisions expire, after periods ranging from 10 to 25 years from the start of the deal's implementation on January 16 last year.

During the election campaign, Trump pledged repeatedly to dismantle or re-negotiate what he described as one of the worst deals he had ever seen.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who serves as overseer of the JCPOA, has disputed that Trump could change the agreement. She pointed out that it is a multilateral deal, enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow