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At the U.N., Secretary Tillerson Meets His Iranian Counterpart


I have decided. That's what President Trump said yesterday when asked whether he had decided what to do about the Iran nuclear deal. He did not say what he has decided, but some news outlets are reporting that he's considering putting it in the hands of Congress, and that could allow the United States to re-impose sanctions and potentially force Tehran to the negotiating table. Now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday that the expectations of the agreement have not been met, and later in the day he met with his Iranian counterpart. Here's more from NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Unlike his predecessor, John Kerry, who often spoke to Iran's foreign minister, Secretary of State Tillerson is just getting to know Javad Zarif.


SEC OF STATE REX TILLERSON: It was a good opportunity to meet, shake hands. The - the tone was very matter of fact. There was not - there was no yelling. 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.

KELEMEN: The European Union's foreign policy chief who chaired the meeting described it as frank, but Federica Mogherini says all sides agreed that so far the deal is being implemented.


EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF FEDERICA MOGHERINI: All agreed on this. No violations. And my sincere hope is that this is going to continue to be the case.

KELEMEN: Under the deal, Iran gets sanctions relief in return for strict limits to its nuclear program, and Mogherini points out that this was a deal that was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council and no one is in the mood for a crisis over this.


MOGHERINI: With the difficult times we are living in the world of today with quite a good number of conflicts, crisis and a nuclear threat coming from a different part of the world, the international community cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working and delivering.

KELEMEN: Secretary Tillerson says Iran may be technically complying, but he says Iran is violating the spirit of the deal and he's raising concerns that the limits on Iran's nuclear deal are phased-out over time. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says his country won't renegotiate any of that. The nuclear deal is a closed one, he told reporters through an interpreter on Wednesday.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) This agreement is not something that someone can touch. This is a building from the frame of which, if you take off a single brick, the entire building will collapse.

KELEMEN: But none of that seems to deter Secretary Tillerson, a former oil executive.


TILLERSON: As a long-time negotiator, I learned to never say never. And second, it always gets the darkest before you might have a breakthrough.

KELEMEN: President Trump has until October 15 to report to Congress on whether he thinks Iran is abiding by the deal, and if he does not certify this Congress could then reimpose sanctions, effectively sinking the deal.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York. 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.