Tillerson fears an "unchecked Iran" will become like North Korea

Asked at a news conference in Washington whether he thought Iran was abiding by the nuclear agreement, President Donald Trump criticized the accord, saying it was a "terrible agreement" and Tehran was doing a "tremendous disservice" to the deal.

Iran has said many times that if the USA imposed additional sanctions, that would violate the nuclear deal and Iran would no longer feel bound by its terms.

Despite the sanctions relief, Iran remains on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for its support of anti-Israel groups and is still subject to non-nuclear sanctions, including for human rights abuses and for its backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

But the Trump administration is pointing to Iran's alleged involvement in other Middle East conflicts that hamper the United States agenda in those countries.

In the first reaction to Tillerson's remarks from a senior Iranian official, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who tweeted that the United States should "fulfill its own commitments".

The agreement between Iran and six world powers, negotiated during Barack Obama's presidency, placed limitations on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting worldwide oil and financial sanctions against Iran. With some of those critics now in office, Tillerson's comments Wednesday marked the first time that position has been echoed by the US government.

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Though there was no sign the Trump administration meant to walk away from the deal, Mr Tillerson twice cautioned that if left unchecked, Teheran could become like North Korea, which is also under pressure over its nuclear ambition.

Then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn announced soon after Trump took office that "as of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice", but didn't elaborate on what that meant.

Tillerson said that decision will be made as part of a governmentwide review of Iran policy now under way. The U.S. has been exploring ways to address the threat of North Korea's nuclear program, which is significantly farther along than Iran's.

"An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it", Tillerson said, later adding that the current nuclear agreement "only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state".

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report. And our promise to you is that we will always strive to provide indispensable journalism to our community.

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