US Defence Secretary James Mattis suggests sticking with Iran nuclear deal

Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Oct 3, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday (Oct 3) the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it were proven Teheran that was not abiding by the agreement or that it was not in the US national interest to do so.

Though Mattis said he supported US President Donald Trump's review of the agreement curbing Iran's nuclear programme, the defence secretary's view was nonetheless far more positive than Trump who has called the deal agreed between Iran and six world powers in 2015 an "embarrassment".

Trump is weighing whether the deal serves US security interests as he faces a mid-October deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with the pact, a decision that could sink an agreement strongly supported by the other powers that negotiated it.

"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 told a Senate hearing.

"I believe..., absent indications to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with," Mattis added.

Earlier in the hearing, Mattis was asked whether he thought staying in the deal was in the US national security interest, to which he replied: "Yes, senator, I do."

The White House had no immediate comment on Mattis' remarks, which once again highlighted the range of views on key policy issues within the Trump administration.

If Trump does not recertify by Oct 15 that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, Congress would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Teheran suspended under the accord.

That would let Congress, controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, effectively decide whether to kill the deal. Although congressional leaders have declined to say whether they would seek to reimpose sanctions, Republican lawmakers were united in their opposition to the deal reached by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

A collapse of the deal could trigger a regional arms race and worsen Middle East tensions.

Last month, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said the nuclear accord cannot be renegotiated.

Last month, the top US military officer said Iran was complying with the pact and warned that any American decision to walk away from it would make other nations less likely to enter into agreements with the United States.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said previously that Iran was complying with its obligations under the nuclear deal, but had increased its activity in other areas.

Trump has said he has made a decision on what to do about the agreement but has not said what he has decided.

The prospect of Washington reneging on the agreement has worried some US partners that helped negotiate it, especially as the world grapples with North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development.

The deal was signed by Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United States.

White House national security adviser HR McMaster has defended Trump's criticism of the deal, saying it had the "fatal flaw" of a 'sunset clause,' under which some of the deal's restrictions on Iran's nuclear program expire from 2025.

European ambassadors speaking in Washington last week said they would do everything possible to protect any companies based in Europe that continue to do business with Iran from reimposed US sanctions.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud noted that the other countries that signed the pact had made clear that they do not support renegotiating it.

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