U.S. and Iranian officials traded criticisms over compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal on Thursday, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s certification to Congress that Iran was following the letter of the deal but could still merit sanctions for its “alarming ongoing provocations” across the Middle East, including sponsorship of terrorism.
President Donald Trump said at a press conference on Thursday that Iran “has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement,” adding that his administration was analyzing Iran’s conduct “very, very carefully.” He also said he has not changed his opinion that it was a “terrible agreement.”
Secretary of State Tillerson also made it clear he was no fan of the deal, saying it “represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea.”
“The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear Iran’s provocative actions threaten the U.S., the region and the world,” Tillerson declared, adding that Iran remains a “global security threat.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded with accusations that the United States has fallen short of its own commitments.
“Worn-out US accusations can’t mask its admission of Iran’s compliance w/ JCPOA,” added Zarif via Twitter. JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the Iranian nuclear deal.
The L.A. Times finds this response relatively “muted” compared to the bellicose Iranian rhetoric of the past and speculates the government of President Hassan Rouhani may prefer to “ride out the current wave of criticism from Washington.” Rouhani is currently running for re-election against challengers who have strongly criticized the nuclear deal as bad for Iran.
Another response noted by the Times came from Abdullah Gangi, editor of a newspaper aligned with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“On one hand he and others in the U.S. administration confirm that Iran has abided by the terms of the nuclear agreement, and on the other hand they threaten Iran and draw parallels to North Korea,” sand Gangi. “This is an absolute fallacy. The new U.S. administration tries to mask its own domestic problems and illegitimacy by accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism or nuclear noncompliance from time to time. These are sheer lies and irrelevant.”
Political analyst Nader Karimi Juni suggested that Iran’s reformist politicians want to “keep their anti-American slogan as an undertone,” but wish to avoid North Korea-style provocative rhetoric or actions that could cut into revitalized Iranian tourism and foreign investment.”
Some who sympathize with the reformists worry that harsh criticism from the Trump administration will help hardline candidates against Rouhani in the presidential election.