Mattis defends Iran deal as Trump considers withdrawal

Mattis defends Iran deal as Trump considers withdrawal
© Keren Carrion

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Mattis open to meeting with Russian defense chief: report Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet MORE on Thursday praised certain parts of the Iran nuclear deal, as President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE repeatedly bashed the multination agreement this week and and threatened to pull the United States out of it.

Asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether the U.S. should stay in the Iran deal, Mattis would not give his opinion. He later said that the deal’s provisions allow “pretty robust” oversight of what Iran is doing.

“I've read it now three times … and I will say that it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” he told lawmakers.

“So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability” for the International Atomic Energy Agency to check on whether Iran is complying.

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“Whether or not that is sufficient, that is a valid question,” Mattis added.

Mattis has said in the past that the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, isn’t perfect, but that staying in it would be in America's national security interest.

On Thursday, he repeated his assertions that it is “an imperfect arms control agreement” with aspects “that can be improved upon.”

He added that the United States is working with its European allies to decide “whether we can repair it enough to stay in it, or if the president is going to decide to withdraw from it.”

“It's going on today as we speak,” Mattis said of the deliberations.

Trump has said he will make a decision on whether to leave the deal by May 12, the next deadline for him to confirm Tehran’s compliance to Congress.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with Trump this week in Washington, said France would not pull out from the agreement if the United States decided to.

“My view — I don’t know what your president will decide — is that he will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons,” Macron told reporters.

He added that such a move "can work in the short term but it’s very insane in the medium to long term.”

Other close European allies such as Germany and Britain have also strongly encouraged Trump to remain in the nuclear accord.

Mattis also brushed aside the view that withdrawing from the Iran deal would undermine negotiations with North Korea in the push to have the isolated country drop its missile tests and nuclear program.

“I would say in that case, in light of [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s] family and himself breaking every international treaty, every agreement they have ever made, whether it's been with the Republic of Korea or with the United States, I am less concerned with that ripple effect right now,” Mattis said.