WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is consulting U.S. allies in Europe as he seeks a way to toughen restrictions on Iran's nuclear program a month before President Donald Trump faces a deadline to decide whether to walk away from what he's called "the worst deal ever."
U.S. diplomats have approached European officials to see if they would join in demanding an extension to limits on Iran's uranium enrichment that are set to expire in 2025 and 2030 under the nuclear accord reached in 2015, according to people familiar with the discussions. Critics say the prospect that Iran could set its nuclear centrifuges spinning again with few restrictions less than a decade from now is one of the accord's greatest flaws.
Tillerson, who has borne the brunt of Trump's frustration for certifying the deal twice so far this year, has to make his recommendation to the president before Oct. 15, when Trump must again notify Congress whether Iran is complying with the accord.
The secretary of state and other top administration officials believe remaining in the deal would ultimately be better than quitting it because Iran is widely seen to be complying with the letter of the agreement it reached with the U.S. and five other world powers, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing diplomatic efforts.
But they still have to convince Trump.
"If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago," Trump told The Wall Street Journal in July.
That's produced a search for new options before the Oct. 15 deadline under a law requiring the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is complying with the accord.
Now, Tillerson is evaluating whether European allies -- to say nothing of China, Russia and Iran -- can be talked into expanding upon their deal, which took months of negotiations to complete during President Barack Obama's administration.
With a broader Iran policy review under way in the administration, the consensus among Tillerson and other officials is to view the nuclear deal as one part of a broader strategy to counter Iran's destabilizing actions in the Middle East, including its program to develop ballistic missiles, its sponsorship of terrorist groups and its support for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
Rather than reopening the nuclear deal -- a prospect that other nations already have rejected -- the parties would seek a separate set of agreements to limit Iran's access to ballistic missile technology and its uranium enrichment after "sunset" provisions in the accord start to take effect in 2025.