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Pence Calls Iran Nuclear Deal 'Disaster,' Warns Of U.S. Withdrawal

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem, January 22, 2018

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has reiterated that the United States will "withdraw" from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers unless the agreement is "fixed."

Pence made the comments in an address to the Israeli parliament on January 22, as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited progress in getting European support for tough penalties against Tehran that could prevent a U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he wanted to work with European allies and Congress to fix what he called "disastrous flaws" in the landmark agreement signed under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Trump warned that Washington would withdraw from the deal curbing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of crippling international sanctions targeting Tehran if the terms of the agreement were not strengthened within four months.

Tehran has ruled out any changes in the agreement, while the other signatories -- Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia -- have closed ranks in support of the accord.

"The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster and the United States of America will no longer certify this ill-conceived agreement," Pence told Israeli lawmakers.

"As President Trump made clear, this is the last time," he also said. "Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately."

Pence also said the Trump administration was "committed to enact effective and lasting restraints on Iran's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs," adding that the United States will "never allow" Tehran to have a nuclear weapon.

Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, while the United States and other countries claim it has been trying to develop nuclear weapons.

London Talks

After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, national security adviser Mark Sedwill, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Tillerson said in London on January 22 that they had agreed to set up a working group of experts on fixing flaws in the nuclear deal.

"I think there's a common view among the E3 that there are some areas of the [agreement] or some areas of Iran's behavior that should be addressed," Tillerson told reporters, referring to the group of countries including Britain, France, and Germany.

Tillerson cited concerns about Iran's ballistic-missile program, which is not covered by the nuclear accord, and provisions in the deal that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic work.

The working group will begin to meet as early as next week to discuss how to address the flaws, he said.

Johnson said that Britain was committed to doing what it could with its partners "collectively to constrain that activity and to make a big difference there."

"We think we can do that together," he said, but insisted that "it is important that we do that in parallel and don't vitiate the fundamentals of the Iran nuclear deal."

Ahead of May's meeting with Tillerson, the British prime minister's spokesman said she would tell him that London was "fully committed to the deal and also to working with our allies to counter Iran's destabilizing regional activity."

Tillerson will carry a similar message when he travels to Paris on January 23.

Ahead of a meeting of the European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on January 22 that Trump's demands "sometimes look like ultimatums."

Le Drian also said that EU ministers would stay "firm" on the need to preserve the agreement, which the minister called "an essential element" of global efforts against nuclear proliferation.

In an interview to be published on January 22, the French minister said he would visit Iran on March 5 to discuss Tehran's ballistic-missile program and the 2015 nuclear deal.

Le Drian told the Le Figaro daily that France "wishes to bring up [Iran's] destabilizing military influence in the Middle East, its financial support for Lebanon's Hizballah and for the Huthi [rebels] in Yemen."

After Paris, Tillerson will spend two days in Davos shadowing Trump at his first visit as president to the annual economic forum.

By January 26, he will be in Poland for more talks with senior officials on security and economic matters.

The U.S. official said that Tillerson would be discussing the U.S. military presence in Poland, which has hosted U.S. and other allied troops following Russia's 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP