Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ratcheted up tensions with Iran on Wednesday, provoking strong warnings from foreign experts who say that the Trump administration may be putting the U.S. on the path toward war with Iran.
In a press conference in Washington, D.C., Tillerson accused Tehran of "alarming and ongoing provocations" and comparing the country to North Korea before calling the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a failure.
"This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea. The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran," Tillerson said during a Thursday press conference.
"There is little room to interpret this statement as anything less than a proclamation of the Trump administration's intent to scrap the nuclear deal and reset the United States on a path to war."
—National Iranian American Council
Foreign policy experts were dismayed by the Trump administration's ongoing aggression toward Iran. They also pointed out that Tillerson's bombastic statements contradicted his own report to House Speaker Paul Ryan a day earlier, in which Tillerson confirmed that Iran was abiding by the terms of the deal.
"Today Secretary Tillerson and the Trump administration placed the security of the American people and the world at grave risk," said the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in response.
"Public statements lambasting the nuclear deal with Iran as a 'failed approach' and comparing the country with North Korea are reckless and blatantly false," the group added. "It is nothing less than unnerving for the Secretary of State to ignore the advice of nearly all security experts, foreign and domestic, on the efficacy of the nuclear deal."
"The administration has now said it will conduct a 90-day review of whether lifting sanctions—as required by the nuclear deal—will be in line with American national security interests," wrote NIAC president Trita Parsi in an op-ed Thursday for the New York Times. "But that timeline is not long enough to save the deal and stop the United States and Iran from sliding dangerously back to a path toward war."
Added Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations, writing for Foreign Affairs: "[Trump] should remember that a more aggressive approach would carry serious risks—not least placing Tehran and Washington on a path toward confrontation that would further inflame the conflicts of one of the world’s most volatile regions."
Parsi further observed:
If the United States reneges on its obligations under the deal, Iran is likely to follow suit and start expanding its nuclear activities—regardless of who wins the presidential elections. As Iran gets closer to possessing a nuclear weapon, the United States will once again inch closer to war. That was precisely the situation in 2012 and 2013: Faced with the realization that the United States' sanctions policy was more likely to lead to war than to Iran's capitulation, President Barack Obama decided to double down on finding a diplomatic solution through secret talks held in Oman. This time around, the American president won't have a diplomatic exit ramp.
"Such incendiary rhetoric serves no purpose other than to undermine a nuclear deal that is working, and that by Tillerson's own admission Iran is in compliance with," NIAC argued. "Secretary Tillerson followed these remarks by saying that the Trump administration will not 'pass the buck' of a nuclear Iran to the next administration. There is little room to interpret this statement as anything less than a proclamation of the Trump administration's intent to scrap the nuclear deal and reset the United States on a path to war."
The response from Iran to Tillerson's harsh statements has been one of frustration. "Worn-out U.S. accusations can't mask its admission of Iran's compliance w/ JCPOA [the nuclear deal], obligating U.S. to change course & fulfill its own commitments," tweeted Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad-Javad Zarif, according to the Guardian.
"During the [nuclear deal] negotiations," recalled Parsi in the Times, "Zarif told me numerous times that he was frustrated that Washington didn’t recognize that the nuclear deal could be a base rather than the ceiling for American-Iranian relations. It could create the possibility of America losing an enemy in the Middle East. When was the last time that happened?"