Trump administration still weighing options for Iran nuclear deal, Tillerson says

Key Points
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said officials will present President Donald Trump with recommendations on the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Trump has suggested in recent months that he will not certify to Congress that Iran is complying with limits on its nuclear program.
  • The next certification deadline is Oct. 15.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington, October 4, 2017.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday declined to say whether he agreed with Defense Secretary James Mattis that scrapping the Iran nuclear deal is not in the country's national security interest.

Tillerson instead hewed to the White House line that the United States must deal with the totality of threats from Iran. He suggested that officials are still preparing options ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline, when President Donald Trump must certify to Congress whether Iran is complying with the historic 2015 accord.

"We'll have a recommendation for the president. We're going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran," he told reporters.

"As you've heard us say many times, the JCPOA represents only a small part of the many issues that we need to deal with when it comes to the Iranian relationship. So it is an important part of that, but it is not the only part," he added, referring to the deal's official title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Trump: We cannot abide an agreement that provides cover for eventual nuclear program in Iran

Trump told the Wall Street Journal in July that he does not think he will certify that Iran remains in compliance with the accord, which places limits on the country's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump, who must report to Congress on the issue every 90 days, has twice certified Iran's compliance, but only reluctantly.

He called the deal "an embarrassment" at the UN General Assembly last month and told world leaders, "I don't think you've heard the last of it — believe me."

On Tuesday, Mattis told a congressional hearing that maintaining the deal remains in the nation's interest.

The prospect of the Iran nuclear deal unfolding is one of several geopolitical risks coming to a head in October that analysts warn could upend oil markets. The deal paved the way for Iran to resume oil exports and line up investors in its aging energy infrastructure and undeveloped fields.

The accord, negotiated between Iran and six world powers including the United States, was never meant to resolve bilateral disputes between Tehran and Washington, including Iran's support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups. The United States rallied support for the deal by focusing narrowly on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Tillerson and other administration officials have criticized the deal because several key elements that limit Iran's nuclear program expire 10 to 15 years after implementation.

On Wednesday, he denied an NBC News report that Vice President Mike Pence had to convince him not to quit. The story was the latest in a series of reports that Tillerson is unsatisfied in his post.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he 'never considered' resigning