At a State Department briefing on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged that he and President Donald Trump have “differences of views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it.” JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Tillerson was responding to a question about whether he personally favored retaining the nuclear deal, which President Trump has vociferously attacked and is reportedly seeking to scuttle when it comes up for re-certification in 90 days – a plan in which a State Department he reportedly no longer completely trusts has been sidelined.
Tillerson replied that he agrees the JCPOA is an “agreement that should serve America’s interests first and foremost.”
“If it doesn’t serve that interest, then why would we maintain it?” he asked.
Tillerson added that the agreement calls upon Iran to not only discontinue its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs but also to become a “good neighbor,” a goal he conceded Iran has fallen well short of meeting. Along with Iran’s continuing pursuit of ballistic missile technology, he cited this as evidence that “the spirit of the agreement has been violated.”
“Now, how do we want to translate that into what does that mean if we say the spirit of the agreement’s been violated? Do we want to tear it up and walk away? Do we want to make the point to Iran that we expect you to get back in line with the spirit of the agreement and we’re going to stay here and hold you accountable to it?” Tillerson asked.
Although he seemed to largely agree with the president’s diagnosis of the JCPOA’s failure, Tillerson answered these questions by saying he urged President Trump to seek “alternative means” to “use the agreement to advance our policies and the relationship with Iran.” He did not elaborate on what those alternative means might be.
“Now, with respect to my relationship with the President, it’s good,” Tillerson said.
“The President has repeatedly expressed his confidence in me. We have a good relationship. I talk to him just about every day. I see him several times a week. He calls me late at night on the weekends when something comes into his head and he wants to talk. He may call me at any moment at any time, but it is a very open relationship, and it’s one in which I feel quite comfortable telling him my views,” he said.
“He and I have differences of views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it,” he continued. “I think if we’re not having those differences, I’m not sure I’m serving him.”
On Tuesday, Iran announced it has lodged a complaint with the oversight commission accusing the United States of violating the JCPOA with new Treasury sanctions against Iranian firms for their role in Tehran’s ballistic missile program and new sanctions from the U.S. Congress for Iran’s human rights abuses and support of terrorism.