A UN Security Council meeting on Thursday meant to discuss proliferation issues turned to a sharp exchange between the United States and Russia, over issues related to Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that if the Iran nuclear agreement with world powers fails, it would send an "alarming" message to the international community.
Lavrov was speaking on confidence-building measures to tackle the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"Clearly the failure of the JCPOA, especially as a result of one of the parties...would be an alarming message for the entire international community architecture, including the prospects for dealing with the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula," Lavrov said.
In a veiled message to the Trump administration, the Russian minister added, "We cannot for the benefit of political agendas of certain countries abandon a genuine achievement of international diplomacy."
Earlier this week in Moscow, Lavrov said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not agree to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting sanctions if the same arrangement with Tehran collapses.
On January 12, Trump said he was waiving U.S. nuclear-related sanctions for another 120 days, as required under the deal in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear activities.
But he said he was doing so for the "last time" to give U.S. and European negotiators a "last chance" to enact measures to fix "disastrous flaws" in the deal.
Although the United States has suspended sanctions against Iran following the nuclear agreement, it still imposes punitive measures over issues such as ballistic missile development, terrorism, and human rights.
Tehran has ruled out any changes in the deal, while the other signatories -- Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia -- have closed ranks in support of the accord.
In his address to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it was in the world's interest that the agreement "be preserved."
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that North Korea is continuing “its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons ... while its people starve.”
Haley described Iran as "the leading cause of instability in an unstable part of the world," saying it supports "terrorists, proxy militants, and murderers like [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad."
She also reiterated criticism of Russia for using its veto power to block further investigations into gas attacks in Syria, accusing Moscow of protecting Assad's government.
Haley said, "One nation stands in the way of the Security Council fulfilling its duty. That nation is Russia. It was Russia that vetoed three council resolutions that would have renewed the Joint Investigative Mechanism. It is Russia that has gone to great lengths at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague to prevent the Assad regime from being held accountable for its actions. If the Russian government is serious about nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it will convince its client Assad that he must eliminate his chemical weapons and cooperate fully with the OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) and the United Nations."
Lavrov said the international community was mounting "baseless accusations" against Damascus.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was chairing the Security Council meeting, urged North Korea to follow Kazakhstan's path and give up its nuclear ambitions.
Kazakhstan has strengthened itself and its international reputation "by renouncing nuclear weapons and obtaining nonaggression safeguards from nuclear powers," Nazarbaev told the council.
The country holds the council presidency this month.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP