Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress Tuesday that the U.S. should stick to the Iran nuclear deal unless it’s proven that Tehran was failing to live up to its end of the bargain.
Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he believes the pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is serving its intended purpose of limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“At this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying in,” he said, according to Politico.
When pressed by Sen. Angus King of Maine on whether he thinks remaining in the deal is in American’s national security interests, Mattis replied, “Yes, senator, I do.”
Mattis’ firm defense of the Iran deal contrasted with President Donald Trump’s previous comments on the pact, which was negotiated in 2015 by the Obama administration along with Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. Trump has called JCPOA one of the worst deals ever negotiated and an “embarrassment” to the U.S.
The White House must decide by Oct. 15 whether to certify that Iran is meeting its obligations under the deal. Trump has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance after two previous review periods, but his recent comments on the deal suggest he is not inclined to do so a third time.
If Trump does not recertify by the October deadline, Congress would then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the deal.
Mattis was not the only top defense official to tell lawmakers that Iran is complying with the agreement. Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tehran “is not in material breach” of the deal, which has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”
Trump and and many Republican allies in Congress say the deal is fatally flawed because of its so-called “sunset” provisions, which will lift restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting in 2025. The White House has also blasted the deal for not addressing other aspects of Tehran’s behavior such as testing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorist groups.
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