Top diplomats from Germany, Russia, China and Italy insisted Thursday there can be no turning back on the Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump suggested that he may seek a renegotiation or simply walk away from the pact.
"How are we going to convince countries like North Korea that international agreements provide them with security — and in so doing make them commit to future disarmament efforts — if the only international example for such an endeavor being successful, the agreement with Iran, no longer has effect?" asked Germany's Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
Italy's U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi said after a Security Council meeting that the escalating situation with North Korea should serve as a cautionary tale for not abandoning the Iran deal. "When you see the DPRK proliferation issue, which is not controlled of course because (it is) a rogue state, and then you have the kind of controlled agreement on Iran, that is the way to go." DPRK is an acronym for North Korea's official name.
Russia's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in his address, called the Iran deal one of the "more important factors of regional and international security" today. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also reiterated support. No agreement is perfect, he said, but if the accord is discarded, the entire non-proliferation system would suffer, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The chorus of international support was countered by a succession of senior Trump aides who repeated the president's objections to the pact in television interviews on Thursday.
In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump called the accord "nothing short of an embarrassment" and the "worst one-sided deal perhaps in American history." He said the accord not only doesn't prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, it virtually assures they will be able to build one once certain limits on its atomic capabilities expire.
Iran has ruled out any renegotiation of the agreement and has said that any abandonment of the deal would lead it to immediately resume enrichment of uranium. Iran also has said it has no intention ever of acquiring nuclear weapons, but U.S. and Israel are among the countries that do not accept those assurances, citing Iran's past nuclear activities.
U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that Trump may try to supplement the deal by extending its provisions that ban Iran from possessing significant stockpiles of enriched uranium for 15 years.
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump's decision on the deal would be part of a broader restructuring of U.S. policy toward Iran, which he said had focused entirely on negotiating and defending the nuclear agreement at the expense of other matters, including Iranian support for Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"When the announcement is made, it will fit in to a fundamentally sound and broad strategy aimed at addressing Iran's destabilizing behavior and prioritizing protecting American vital interests," he said.
"Our approach to Iran has to change fundamentally," McMaster said on CBS. "We have largely in recent years vacated very important competitive space with Iran in this sophisticated campaign of subversion where they're really creating almost a Hezbollah model across the greater Middle East."
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday had the highest-level encounter between the U.S. and Iran of Trump's presidency, meeting and shaking hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The host of that meeting of parties to the agreement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said all sides agreed that the deal is working.
Tillerson said that while Iran might be meeting its obligations to the letter of the deal, it is violating its spirit.
"It's pretty difficult to say that the expectations of the parties who negotiated this agreement have been met," he said, citing Iranian behavior in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Trump is obliged to certify to Congress by Oct. 15 if Iran is complying with the deal, and officials have said he may use that occasion to either declare Iran in violation or determine that the agreement is no longer in the U.S. national security interest.
Tillerson hinted at the latter, saying Trump is "very, very carefully considering the decision of whether we find the (nuclear deal) to continue to serve the security interests of the American people or not."
In his General Assembly speech, German Foreign Minister Gabriel indirectly undercut Trump's philosophy of "America first" by devoting much of his time to the value of international cooperation and multilateralism.
"National egoism is worthless as a regulatory principle for our world," he said. "This world view describes the world as an arena, a kind of battleground, in which everyone is fighting against everyone else and in which everyone has to assert their own interests. ... In this world view, the law of the strongest prevails, not the strength of the law."
He added: "We need more international cooperation and less national egoism, not the other way around."