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Iranian President Tells U.N. Trump Could Be At Blame If Nuclear Deal Falls Apart

AILSA CHANG: For the first time since he took office, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met face-to-face with his Iranian counterpart, the Iranian foreign minister. They met behind closed doors with the other countries involved in a nuclear deal that President Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of.


REX TILLERSON: I don't know. We'll see. It was a good opportunity to meet, shake hands. The tone was very matter-of-fact. It was not - there was no yelling (laughter). We didn't throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all. It was a very, very matter-of-fact exchange of how we see this agreement very, very differently.

CHANG: The deal limits Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. And other governments say it is working. NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now from the U.N. headquarters in New York. Hi, Michele.


CHANG: What else do we know about what happened in that room today?

KELEMEN: Well, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who chaired it came out, calling it frank, which is kind of diplo-speak for tough. She said that everyone there agreed that there have not been any violations of the deal. And she also said that there was a general sense in the room that there are so many other crises around the world, including North Korea, that the international community can't afford to dismantle an agreement that's working. Now, Tillerson on the other hand said that while it's technically true that Iran is not violating the deal, the U.S. thinks that Iran is violating the spirit of the deal by being a bad actor in other areas.

CHANG: OK, so President Trump called this deal an embarrassment, and he's signaling he might walk away from it. Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, told the U.N. that Trump will be blamed if the deal falls apart. Here he is through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics.

CHANG: So Michele, what else did Rouhani have to say?

KELEMEN: Right. Notice the word rogue...

CHANG: Yeah.

KELEMEN: ...Because Trump often calls the Iranians the rogue regime. He said he thinks that Trump should apologize to the Iranians for the U.N. speech. He accused Trump of using - and these are Rouhani's words - ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric. The Iranian president also said that he believes most countries in the U.N. support the Iran nuclear deal. So again, if Trump pulls out, the U.S. will take the blame.

CHANG: Did he say what Iran would do if the U.S. tries to get out of the deal?

KELEMEN: Not really. He said that Iran would - you know, he didn't say that Iran is going to ramp up its nuclear program or anything, but he seemed to indicate that's a possibility because he said Iran would have an open hand or a free hand. The deal also ensures that U.N. inspectors have regular access to known nuclear sites in Iran. That could be put in jeopardy if the deal falls apart. But again, Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, says the Europeans are going to make sure that this deal stays.

CHANG: Is Iran even remotely open to renegotiating this deal?

KELEMEN: You know, one of the things that the U.S. has complained about are these sunset clauses, and that is that the restrictions on the nuclear program go away over time. You know, in 2025, many of the restrictions go away. So you know, we were asking the president Hassan Rouhani about this, and he said, look; these are things that were negotiated over a long period of time. This was part of the deal, and we're not up for renegotiating. He said, you know, if you - he called it like a building. He said if you take one brick out, the whole deal collapses. So he said no negotiations on that.

CHANG: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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