UNITED NATIONS — Iran's deputy foreign minister pointed at the United States in warning on Tuesday that a new nuclear arms race and new competition to modernize nuclear weapons are starting.
Abbas Araghchi made the comments during a high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to promote International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, calling that goal "a legal, political and moral responsibility."
But, he said, despite the cessation of the nuclear arms race for some years, "recently we hear (an) alarming announcement by a nuclear-weapon state that it intends to continuously strengthen and expand its nuclear arsenal to ensure its place 'at the top of the pack.'"
This was a clear reference to U.S. President Donald Trump's comment in February that "a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."
Araghchi called that statement "a clear indication of, and an explicit invitation to, the start of a new nuclear arms race."
He also warned about the plans of "almost all nuclear weapon possessors for the modernization of their nuclear weapon arsenals" as well as the development of mini-nukes "by a certain nuclear-weapon state." He said those are alarming trends that increase the danger of nuclear weapons being used.
This appeared aimed at the five nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — but especially the United States. As part of an in-depth review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, the Pentagon is considering whether to develop more low-yield nuclear weapons, which critics say would increase the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used in combat.
Iran was one of 122 countries that voted in July in favor of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, and Araghchi said his government "will continue to support its overall objective." But he did not say whether the government intends to sign the treaty.
Under its terms, non-nuclear nations agreed not to pursue atomic weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five original nuclear powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and to guarantee other states' access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.
Araghchi noted that Iran entered negotiations with six major powers that led to the 2015 deal that capped its nuclear program. He said this "historical achievement of diplomacy has delivered on its purposes for the past two years."
The Trump administration is currently debating whether to withdraw from the deal, which is supported by the five other powers and many other countries.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting by saying the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world "has been subject to numerous challenges" — most recently North Korea's "provocative nuclear and missile tests, heightening tensions and heightening the dangers of proliferation."
Guterres condemned those acts and welcomed the Security Council's calls for "a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution."
He also welcomed significant efforts in the past by nuclear weapon states, especially Russia and the United States, "to reduce their arsenals and the role of nuclear weapons in their security."
"However, expensive modernization campaigns, combined with the absence of planned arsenal reductions beyond the New Start treaty, make it difficult to see how disarmament can make progress," Guterres said.
He said the nuclear weapon states have "a special responsibility to lead by taking concrete steps" to a nuclear weapon-free world.