WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conceded Sunday that Iran is in "technical compliance" with the international agreement to curb its nuclear weapons development, but said that President Donald Trump wants Congress to adopt "a more complete strategy" to fix what the U.S. leader sees as flaws in the pact.
The top U.S. diplomat told CNN that Tehran has a "demonstrated practice of walking right up to the limits" of the 2015 deal, prompting Trump on Friday to decertify that Iran was in compliance and leaving it up to Congress whether to reimpose economic sanctions that were in place before the U.S., the European Union, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China reached the accord with Iran.
Tillerson said Trump wants Congress, perhaps in a separate deal, to fix "a number of weaknesses" in the nuclear agreement, and address "a much broader list of threats" Iran poses with its military aggression and "destabilizing activities" in the Middle East. Tillerson said Iran's ballistic missile tests, not banned by the nuclear pact, need to be curbed and a more definitive ban imposed on its nuclear program. He said the current pact "simply postpones the reckoning" over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
In the meantime, while Congress considers whether to adopt new sanctions, Tillerson said the U.S. and the other international signatories need to "fully enforce the agreement."
Watch: Trump on Nuclear Deal With Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who negotiated the pact for Tehran, told CBS' "Face the Nation" show that with Trump's opposition to the deal, "Nobody else will trust any U.S. administration to engage in any long-term negotiation because the length of any commitment, the duration of any commitment, from now on with any U.S. administration would be the remainder of the term of that president."
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told NBC, "I think right now you are going to see us stay in the deal, because what we hope is that we can improve the situation, and that's the goal. So I think right now, we're in the deal to see how we can make it better, and that's the goal. It's not that we're getting out of the deal. We're just trying to make the situation better so that the American people feel safer.”
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None of the five nations or the EU that reached the deal with Iran has agreed with Trump's stance against it.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday the accord "is a robust deal that provides guarantees and a strong monitoring mechanism so that Iran's nuclear program is, and will remain, exclusively for civilian purposes only." She said "there have been no violations of any of the commitments."
Mogherini said that Trump "has many powers. Not this one," to overturn the pact unilaterally.
Tillerson rejected the contention that Trump's decertification of the Iran deal weakens the U.S. position in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.
He said the U.S. stance on Iran means that it "will expect a very demanding agreement" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to end his nuclear weapons development.
Trump has told Tillerson he is wasting his time to try to negotiate with North Korea, but Tillerson said the U.S. leader actually supports talks with Pyongyang.
"These diplomatic efforts will go on to the time the first bomb drops," Tillerson said.
Tillerson has had a contentious relationship with Trump, but said he is "fully committed to supporting" the president.
But Tillerson once again declined to deny several media accounts that in July, during a moment of frustration with the president's foreign policy positions, harshly assessed Trump's intelligence, uttering an expletive in calling Trump a "moron" before a group of U.S. military leaders after a Pentagon meeting.
"These are the games of Washington," Tillerson said. "I'm not playing. I call him Mr. President. He makes the decisions. I try to go out and carry them out."