U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis joined the ranks of high level figures in Trump’s administration to back the Iran nuclear agreement in recent weeks, telling Congress Tuesday that staying in the deal was in America’s best national security interest.
Mattis’s latest comments contradict Trump’s public stance, and come less than two weeks before the president has to decide whether to uphold or abandon the deal.
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis reiterated the position he once laid out during his confirmation hearing: that the Iran nuclear agreement wasn’t a deal he would’ve signed, but that the U.S. gave its word, and barring any evidence of violations, it should remain.
“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis said.
Trump has an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress whether or not the U.S. should remain in the agreement, which he recently described as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” and “an embarrassment to the United States.”
Trump’s desire to abandon the deal is at odds with the opinion of many top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.
Dunford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday that “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement, and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”
CNN reported Tuesday that Tillerson was also trying to salvage the deal, seeking support from world leaders party to the agreement, according to several unnamed U.S. officials and diplomats. Trump may also face opposition from his own party, with Politico reporting Tuesday that key congressional leaders may block the president from backing out of the deal.