U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that changes are needed in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal before the administration of President Donald Trump will agree to continue supporting it.
In an interview with Fox News late on September 19 that suggested the United States could withdraw from the deal unless changes are made, Tillerson said the administration was particularly concerned about the deal's "sunset" clauses, which allow restrictions put on Iranian nuclear activities such as uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief to expire after 10 years in 2025.
Tillerson called the sunset clauses "the most glaring flaw" in the deal.
"It's not a stiff enough agreement. It doesn't slow their program enough," he said. "We can almost start the countdown clock as to when they will resume their nuclear weapons capability."
"If we're going to stick with the Iran deal there has to be changes made to it. The sunset provision simply is not a sensible way forward," he told Fox.
"It's just simply...kicking the can down the road again for someone in the future to have to deal with," he said.
Tillerson's remarks come as the administration faces an October 15 deadline for deciding whether to certify that Iran is complying with the pact. If it does not, the U.S. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal.
Tillerson said the United States will seek the help of allies in Europe who signed onto the deal in trying to persuade Iran to reopen negotiations over the sunset provisions.
"We do need the support of our allies, our European allies and others, to make the case as well to Iran that this deal really needs to be revisited," he told Fox.
Tillerson's comments came one day after reports that French President Emmanuel Macron, a staunch supporter of the deal, had suggested reopening negotiations over the expiring provisions in separate talks with his U.S. and Iranian counterparts on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
In a speech before the UN on September 19, Macron said any decision to abandon the deal would be "irresponsible" and "a grave error."
But he acknowledged critics' concerns that the agreement does not cover Iran's nuclear activities after 2025 or address other concerns in the West about Iran's ballistic-missile program and involvement in regional conflicts.
Macron called for diplomacy to address those issues, saying, "Let's be stricter, but let's not unravel agreements that have already brought security."
Earlier in the day, Trump in his first address to the UN assembly had attacked what he called the "murderous regime" in Tehran and declared that "we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program."
Trump said the Iran nuclear deal was "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into."
"Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me," he said.
"The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy," Trump said, describing the country as an "economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos."
"It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction."
Iranian President Hassan Rohani responded to Trump’s criticism by telling reporters the United States would forfeit the world's trust if it exited the nuclear deal, which also was signed by France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Trump's remarks as "shameless" and "ignorant."
"Especially in the part where he mentioned the great Iranian nation, his comments were without content, just empty slogans that are not worth reacting to," Zarif told Iran's state-run Fars news agency.
"The shameless and ignorant comments of the U.S. president, which ignore the realities of Iran in its domestic and foreign policies and its fight against terrorism, reveal the depth of how uninformed Trump is," Zarif said. "It also reveals his demagogic behavior and rhetoric."
In an English-language post to Twitter, Zarif said, "Trump's ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times, not the 21st-century UN -- unworthy of a reply. Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about the hardening U.S. stance against the nuclear deal after talks with Tillerson on the sidelines of the UN session on September 19.
"It is particularly worrying that the United States, through its President Trump, has once again confirmed its unbending stance and fiercely criticized the joint action plan, which allowed eliminating the Iranian nuclear issue," he said.
Lavrov said he will "defend" the deal against U.S. criticism at a meeting of the foreign ministers from countries that signed the deal scheduled at the UN on September 20.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump's remarks about Iran, however, saying in his address before the UN that he had "never heard a bolder or more courageous speech" in more than 30 years.
Netanyahu also echoed the U.S. demand for renegotiation of the expiring provisions of the deal.
"Change it, or cancel it. Fix it, or nix it," he said.