US must stay in Iran’s nuclear deal, Defense Secretary Mattis tells senators

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford (R) testify during a Senate hearing on October 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the administration of President Donald Trump must consider remaining a party to Iran’s nuclear deal with the world powers, as the international accord serves US national interest.

Mattis’ remarks at a Tuesday Senate hearing comes in sharp contrast with Trump's assessment that the nuclear agreement is an "embarrassment" to the US.

Asked if he believed the nuclear deal is in the US national interest, Mattis replied, "Yes, senator, I do."

"If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then surely we should stay with it," he said.

"I believe at this point in time, absent indication to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with," Mattis pointed out.

US President Donald Trump has desperately sought a pretext to scrap or weaken the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and get rid of the limits it imposes on the US ability to pursue more hostile policies against Iran.

US President Donald Trump boards airplane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to depart for Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The US stance on the JCPOA comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly verified Iran’s adherence to the terms of the nuclear agreement since January 2016, when it took effect.

All other parties to the deal, along with the entire international community, have thrown their weight behind the accord and verified Iran's full commitment to its side of the bargain.

On Friday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged Europe to defy US sanctions if Trump’s administration abandons the JCPOA.

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The US Republican president faces an October 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with the deal. Such certification is needed by US law every 90 days in order for the Congress to continue to withhold nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, itself a US commitment under the JCPOA.

The Trump administration has twice so far certified Iran’s compliance with the deal, but if he refuses to do that for a third time, then the Republican-controlled Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions waived under the deal. That would let Congress effectively decide whether to kill the deal.

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