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Iranian Minister: Tillerson Firing Shows Trump Bent On Killing Nuclear Deal

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi

U.S. President Donald Trump's dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shows that he intends to pull the United States out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, Iran's deputy foreign minister has said.

"The United States is determined to leave the nuclear deal, and changes at the State Department were made with that goal in mind -- or at least it was one of the reasons," Abbas Araghchi was quoted as saying by state news agency ISNA on March 14.

Trump announced Tillerson's departure in a tweet on March 13, saying he would be replaced by Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, who takes a tougher stance against Iran than Tillerson.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 nuclear deal, which requires Iran to curb nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, and he cited differences with Tillerson over the deal as a reason for dismissing him.

"We got along, actually, quite well, but we disagreed on things," Trump said. "Look at the Iran deal. I think it's terrible. I guess he felt it was okay; I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same."

Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the agreement unless European allies agree by May 12 to fix what he called "flaws" in the deal and impose tough new restrictions aimed at curbing Iran's ballistic missile development and intervention in regional conflicts.

"If the U.S. quits the nuclear deal, we will also quit it," Araghchi said on March 14, according to ISNA. "We have told the Europeans that if they can't keep the U.S. in the deal, Iran will also leave it."

Tillerson had been leading efforts by the Trump administration to work out a side agreement with France, Britain, and Germany that would enable the United States to stay in the nuclear deal.

It is not known whether Pompeo will continue those efforts. But his hard-line stance against Iran emerged on March 14 as a potential obstacle for his nomination in the U.S. Senate, which must confirm him to the top diplomatic post.

Senator Rand Paul announced that he would "do everything I can" to block Pompeo's nomination as well as Trump's nomination of GIna Haspel to replace Pompeo at the CIA, saying they both support "regime change" in Iran that likely would lead to a military conflict.

Paul's opposition could prevent Pompeo's nomination from being approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if every Democrat on the committee votes against it. Republicans hold only a one-vote majority on the panel.

Some newspapers in Iran on March 14 expressed concern about the prospect of Pompeo becoming U.S. secretary of state.

Iran's Javan daily, which is believed to be close to the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said that replacing Tillerson with Pompeo signaled the end of the nuclear deal.

"For quitting the deal, his dumping was necessary," Javan said.

That assessment was echoed by Ali Khorram, a former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, in the pro-reform daily Arman.

"Pompeo is very interested in waging a war similar to the Iraq war by citing international regulations," Khorram wrote. "European powers will play a role in balancing his desire."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters