President Donald Trump’s likely decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement during an Oct. 12 speech has spawned a series of claims that he vastly differs in opinion from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
The claim stems from Mattis’ affirmative answer to a yes or no question on whether he believed staying in the nuclear agreement was in the national security interest of the U.S. during Senate testimony Oct 3. Mattis, however, also went on to say that the deal deserves a “rigorous” review by the administration, which is exactly what the president intends on triggering with decertification.
The main objection of the Trump administration is the deal’s “sunset clause” — the lack of mechanism to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile testing — and its support of violent terrorist organizations across the Middle East. The sunset clause is the eclipse of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear agreements in the 10-15 year period, which would allow it to develop nuclear weapons without any international penalties.
Trump does not ultimately intend on withdrawing from the deal completely but instead using decertification and subsequent 60-day Congressional review to pressure the Iranian regime and other signatories of the deal into further negotiations. Mattis also supported this strategy, Politico noted in a recent report.
Mattis has long held private concerns on the long term implications of the Iran deal and the regime’s behavior throughout the Middle East. He was reportedly forced to retire five months early as commander of U.S. Central Command in 2013 for being too hawkish towards the regime and asking provocative questions about the long-term impact of the deal.
Questions he posed to former President Barack Obama and his team included: “What do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf?” When officials would answer or demur he would reportedly say, “And then what?”
Mattis’ questions on the long term impact of the deal echo the main concerns of the Trump administration on the deal, and the impetus behind their likely decision to decertify it.
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