Tillerson: Iran’s nuclear quest a ‘grave risk’ to global security

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned against an “unchecked Iran” Wednesday, which he said could “follow the same path as North Korea” in pursuing nuclear weapons and putting global security at risk.

“Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a grave risk to international peace and security,” Tillerson said in brief remarks from the State Department Treaty Room about the administration’s interagency review of the Iran nuclear deal forged by former US president Barack Obama and world powers in July 2015.

The US secretary also branded the Iran nuclear deal a failure, arguing the accord had just been a way of “buying off” the regime and would only delay its development of a nuclear weapon that could threaten its region and the world.

Tillerson said the deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and was a product of “the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea.”

Illustrative: Iran's heavy water nuclear facilities near the central city of Arak. (CC-BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia/Nanking2012)

Earlier this week, Tillerson wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan confirming Tehran was abiding by the landmark pact, while adding that the United States will conduct a “comprehensive review” of its policy toward Iran and the nuclear agreement.

US President Donald Trump made contradictory promises during the campaign as to what his policy would be toward Iran, but more than once vowed to dismantle the accord, if elected.

Despite Tillerson’s confirmation that Tehran is complying with the the deal, he said the current regime could sow disorder both in the region and worldwide.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” he said. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel,” he added. “Iran maintains a longstanding hostility towards Israel, providing weapons, training, and funding to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.

The nation’s top diplomat also underlined the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations.

“Iran continues to have one of the world’s worst human rights records,” he said. “Political opponents are regularly jailed or executed, reaching the agonizing low point of executing juveniles or other individuals whose punishment is not proportionate to their crime.”

The nuclear deal was sealed in Vienna in July 2015 after 18 months of negotiations led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and diplomats from the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. Under its terms, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program, long suspected of being aimed at developing atomic weapons, in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran on Jaunary 17, 2017, to mark the first anniversary of the implementation of the nuclear deal. (AFP/Atta Kenare)

Opponents of the deal, including Israel, objected, saying it only delayed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and did not allow for the kind of inspections of its atomic sites that would guarantee it was not cheating.

Obama, Kerry and others who negotiated the deal strenuously defended its terms and said the agreement made Israel, the Middle East and the world a safer place.

Since taking office, Trump’s administration has adopted a hawkish and confrontational stance with Tehran.

In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a number of entities connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and warned the Islamic Republic it had been “put on notice” and that it was “playing with fire” afer it test-firing a medium range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, which the White House contends violated a UN Security Council resolution proscribing missiles that could carry a nuclear device.

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