U.S. President Donald Trump's administration late on July 17 certified that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal and will continue to receive nuclear-related sanctions relief, but vowed to press ahead with sanctions over ballistic missiles, fast boats, and other matters.
It was the second time since Trump took office that the administration acknowledged that the deal is working to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even though Trump campaigned on a promise to "rip up" what he called the "worst deal ever."
While Tehran has adhered to the agreement's terms, the administration lambasted it for breaching what it called "the spirit" of the deal by continuing to develop and test ballistic missiles and fast boats -- matters it said would be targeted with further sanctions.
The administration also continued to express concern about Iran's alleged human rights abuses, support for terrorism against Israel, imprisonment of U.S. citizens, and interference with freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
"Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to U.S. interests and regional stability," a senior official said, adding that the administration is looking at ways to try to strengthen the nuclear deal and more strictly enforce it.
But the announcement may have added to what Tehran's top diplomat said has become a sense of bewilderment at the two-sided U.S. stance toward Iran since Trump took office.
"We receive contradictory signals, so we don't know how to interpret it,"Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York hours before the administration's certification of Iran's compliance with the deal.
While the United States may be ambivalent, "Iran is serious about the nuclear deal," Zarif said, and will continue to comply with its restrictions on nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
Zarif said he has not as yet spoken with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward Iran, but he is open to doing so.
"There are no communications between myself and Secretary Tillerson," he said. "It doesn't mean there can't be. The possibilities for engagement...have always been open."
By contrast, Zarif said during his years of negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal, he and former Secretary of State John Kerry "probably" spent more time with each other "than with anybody else."
Representatives of the five nuclear powers -- China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States -- plus Germany are to meet in Vienna on July 21 to take stock of the deal.
Zarif said they would discuss Iran's complaint that the United States has not been complying with its part of the deal by failing to lift all sanctions against Iran.
In fact, the Trump administration's moves to ratchet up non-nuclear sanctions on Iran since taking office -- along with legislation that recently passed the U.S. Senate to increase non-nuclear sanctions on Iran -- "creates the impression in Iran that the United States' hostility toward Iran will never end," Zarif said.
The United States says it maintains sanctions on Iran because the ballistic missiles Iran is testing have the capacity to carry nuclear warheads and can reach Israel, Tehran's implacable foe. Iran denies that.
Zarif insisted that Iran's missiles are only intended for self-defense and he sarcastically compared Iran's home-made missiles with the expensive arms that the United States is supplying its main rival in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, under a recently announced $110 billion arms deal.
Noting that Iran fought an eight-year war against Iraq in the 1980s during which it endured chemical weapons attacks with little sympathy from the rest of the world, Zarif said that "we need [the missiles] to make sure that another Saddam Hussein around the corner will not come and hit us again."
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters