Washington (AFP) - Washington's ambassador to the United Nations warned Tuesday that, if left unchanged, the Iran nuclear deal could allow Tehran to pose the same kind of missile threat to US cities as North Korea.
President Donald Trump is due to decide in the middle of next month whether he believes Iran is living up to its commitments or whether to seek new US sanctions that could torpedo the accord.
His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, would not say explicitly what her advice has been -- but left little room for doubt that she believes it is time to re-examine the "flawed" deal.
"I'm not making the case for decertifying. What I am saying is that, should he decide to decertify he has grounds to stand on," she told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute.
"What I am doing is just trying to lay out the options of what's out there, what we need to be looking at and knowing that the end result has to be the national security of the United States.
"We should at no time be beholden to any agreement and sacrifice the security of the United States to say that we'll do it."
Under a 2015 deal signed by Iran and six world powers, Tehran is supposed to roll back its nuclear program and submit to inspections in return for Washington and its allies lifting some sanctions.
Thus far, the IAEA UN nuclear watchdog and the US State Department have reported that Tehran has complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the core of the deal.
But Haley, and other influential figures in Trump's Washington, argue that Iran's continuing alleged breaches of limits placed on its ballistic missile program violate the spirit of the deal.
The previous missile sanctions were listed in an annex to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, under which the world body adopted the JCPOA into international law.
Therefore, Haley argues, Tehran's ongoing development of ballistic missiles and alleged support for global terrorism should be taken into account when Trump judges the success of the deal.
- Credible threat -
And she warned that the terms of the JCPOA begin to expire in ten years' time -- opening the way for them to resume weapons research.
"That's the day when Iran's military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States, a technology that North Korea only recently developed," she said.
Former president Barack Obama never submitted the JCPOA to Congress to be approved as a binding treaty, and US lawmakers passed a bill obliging the White House to recertify it every 90 days.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Trump now decides next month to declare that Iran is in breach of the agreement, Congress will then have 60 days to debate whether to re-impose some or all sanctions.
European capitals would oppose this, arguing the agreement is still the best mechanism to restrain even an untrustworthy Iran's nuclear ambitions and that world powers should stand by signed agreements.
But hawks in Washington argue that if Trump and Haley make good on their threat to find against Iran this would not collapse the deal immediately -- and may help strengthen it in the longer term.
"Trump's approach is already motivating European countries to discuss options to fix the deal," argued Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"Another certification by Trump -– especially when he made it clear that he would not certify Iran again -– would undermine that credible threat," he said.