In a sign of the ongoing internal dissent over ending the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, multiple sources told the Washington Free Beacon that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley have been at odds over the deal, with Trump’s U.N. ambassador privately expressing dismay with Tillerson over his continued efforts to preserve the nuclear agreement.
Tillerson and Haley held a private powwow Wednesday with international leaders regarding the future of the nuclear deal, a sign of Haley’s vital role in the Trump administration’s key foreign policy issue.
The meeting is likely to underscore mounting tensions between Haley and Tillerson on the issue, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, who told the Free Beacon that Haley views Tillerson’s efforts to preserve the deal as anathema to Trump’s own policy agenda.
The division is one of several that Tillerson has sparked within the administration, particularly in the West Wing, where the secretary of state has been described as in “open war” with Trump on a series of major foreign policy issues, including Iran and the Israel-Palestinian impasse.
“The tension between Rex and Nikki is the worst kept secret in the State Department,” according to one veteran foreign policy hand who has been in close contact with the State Department on the issue.
Haley “thinks that [Tillerson is] trying to undermine the president and preserve Obama’s Iran legacy, which is true,” explained the source, who would only discuss the sensitive matter on background. “He thinks she’s running her own foreign policy and auditioning for his job, which is also true.”
These tensions have “spilled into the open” several times “over the last few weeks,” but were quickly dispelled in order to promote a public face of unity within the Trump administration, according to the source and others who spoke to the Free Beacon.
“It will keep happening as long as the secretary keeps working to force Trump to certify while the ambassador keeps working to promote what Trump says he wants,” the source said.
Asked about the Wednesday joint meeting and report of divisions between Haley and Tillerson, a State Department official denied the divisions and said both senior administration officials are working together.
“We are not going to get ahead of any meetings and we are not going to discuss internal U.S. government discussions,” a State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon in response to questions about reported tensions. “The secretary and Ambassador Haley work in close cooperation to address the most pressing national security challenges.”
Another veteran Republican foreign policy adviser who has advised multiple U.S. officials on the Iran portfolio confirmed the internal divisions between Tillerson and other senior administration officials such as Haley, telling the Free Beacon the secretary of state remains a chief voice pushing for the Iran agreement to remain in place.
“Tillerson is buying what the Europeans are selling and he’s really pushing the president to recertify,” said the source, who also requested anonymity to discuss internal conversations. “The Republicans on Capitol Hill don’t want this to fall into their lap so they’re backing Tillerson for now. Haley is doing what she can to fight for what’s right, but it might not matter if [Secretary of Defense] Mattis backs up Tillerson.”
“President Trump’s going to be totally humiliated by the Iranians if he falls for something this stupid,” the source said.
These tensions over the Iran deal have also been making waves on Capitol Hill, where opponents of the deal view Haley as one of their chief allies.
“Haley clearly understands that the status quo is unsustainable,” said one senior congressional official involved in the matter. “She recognizes that the nuclear deal has been a complete disaster for the United States and our allies.”
“Meanwhile, Tillerson continues to pursue his own agenda at State with little regard for the president’s priorities,” the official said. “It’s good to see Haley stand firm as the voice of reason, and urge Tillerson and other Iran sympathizers to end their rogue behavior.”
Haley and Tillerson are expected to raise the issue of renegotiating the Iran deal with international allies, a proposal that is not likely to gain much traction.
The Europeans have already reengaged in business with Iran and view attempts to re-litigate the accord as damaging to their financial interests.
Richard Goldberg, a longtime foreign policy strategist who was one of the chief architects of Iran sanctions during his time as a senior congressional adviser, told the Free Beacon the Europeans cannot be trusted to crack down on Iran’s increasingly belligerent activities, such as ballistic missile tests.
“The president would be foolish to recertify Iran on Europe’s empty promise of “fixing” the deal,” said Goldberg, the author of a recent memo outlining for the Trump administration how it can remove the U.S. from the nuclear deal. “Unless European leaders credibly believe President Trump might reimpose sanctions at any moment, they will say nice things in meetings and do absolutely nothing to ‘fix’ a fundamentally bad deal they already accepted.”
Given this scenario, Trump’s best move it to designate Iran as in violation of the deal in the coming weeks, Goldberg said, explaining that European government’s would have no choice but to comply with any new U.S. sanctions on Tehran.
“The president has no other option than to decertify and hold the re-imposition of sanctions over both Europe and Iran as a financial Sword of Damocles until we see behavioral change by the regime,” he said.
European promises to help crack down on Iran are being viewed as hollow in light of an upcoming international gathering next month between the European Union and Iran that is aimed at boosting commercial trade.