WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, on Tuesday, in part over “disagreements” on the Iran nuclear deal and amid a critical negotiation with Europe over its fate.
Speaking to the press, Trump said that he had been mulling Tillerson’s ouster for some time. “When you look at the Iran deal – I think it’s terrible,” he said. “I guess [Tillerson] thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it, or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same. With [Trump’s intended replacement for Tillerson] Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process.”
Tillerson’s State Department is currently leading talks with Britain, France and Germany, hoping to come to an understanding on the future of the Iran accord within eight weeks – a deadline set by Trump in January for the European powers to renegotiate major terms of the nonproliferation agreement.
Tillerson has publicly contradicted Trump on the Iran deal in the past, including during these negotiations. Trump, in January, said that he was giving Europe a “last chance” to fix the accord and that he would not sign a waiver on nuclear-related sanctions in May without clear commitments from them. And yet Tillerson said the European allies would work on their own time.
The ousted secretary has also advised Trump not to rip up the nuclear accord outright. But his named replacement, CIA director Pompeo, has disagreed, advocating for a full US withdrawal from the 2015 pact negotiated by president Barack Obama, Iran and five other powers.
Trump wants an agreement with Britain, France and Germany – known as the “E3” – that will demand an end to Iran’s ballistic missile testing, which are not addressed by the nuclear deal; unrestricted access for UN nuclear inspectors to Iran’s military sites, which have in the past hosted nuclear weapons experimentation; and permanent caps on Iran’s enrichment of fissile material, which in the current deal sunset within 10 to 15 years.
Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post
they believe Trump is serious in his threat to withdraw from the deal. The US-E3 talks dominated Trump’s conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House last week.
The talks are scheduled to continue in Berlin on Thursday.
So far, European powers have expressed a willingness to engage on all of Trump’s concerns – but remain adamant that the 2015 nuclear agreement must stay in place in its current form.