US defense secretary, 180 congressmen voice support for Iran deal

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US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal despite suggestions that Donald Trump’s White House may withdraw its support.

Although Mattis said he supported Trump’s review of the agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program, the defense secretary’s view was far more positive than that of Trump, who has called the deal agreed between Iran and six world powers in 2015 an “embarrassment”, Reuters reported.

Trump is weighing whether the pact serves US security interests as he faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying, a decision that could sink an agreement strongly supported by the other world 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, when Mattis was asked whether he thought staying in the deal was in the US national security interest, 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 major policy issues within the Trump administration.

Trump has railed against the deal, but officials say that far from scrapping it, he is considering kicking the decision to Congress.

Ahead of the October 15 deadline, several officials familiar with White House deliberations told AFP Trump has made it clear he does not want to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord.

If Trump does not recertify by the deadline that Iran is in compliance, congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran 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 agreement reached by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

In a House of Representatives hearing on Tuesday, Mattis said Iran was “fundamentally” in compliance with the nuclear deal.

“There have been certainly some areas where they were not temporarily in that regard, but overall our intelligence community believes that they have been compliant and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) also says so,” Mattis said.

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

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

Backers of the pact say its collapse could trigger a regional arms race, worsen Middle East tensions and discourage countries like North Korea from trusting Washington to keep its word.

180 Democrats’ letter to Trump

More than 180 of the 194 Democratic members of Congress sent a joint letter to US president on Wednesday, urging him to recertify that Iran is complying with the deal.

“Absent credible and accurate information confirming a material breach, we are concerned that withholding certification of Iran’s compliance or walking away from the JCPOA would harm our alliances, embolden Iran and threaten US national security,” the letter said.

The lawmakers also suggested that American withdrawal from the deal could damage attempts to resolve the escalating nuclear standoff with North Korean through a diplomatic process.

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

Russia will continue supporting deal

Russia will support the Iran nuclear deal brokered under Barack Obama and now all parties honor their commitments, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a plenary session of the Russian Energy Week-2017 International Forum.

“All reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency say that Iran fully meets all its commitments. We are guided by these considerations and will back the deal, which was brokered under the previous US administration, although we had many differences on other issues,” Putin said, according to TASS.

The Russian leader noted that it is not up to Moscow to consider if Iran complies with its commitments under the nuclear deal or not. This is a matter for the IAEA, an influential organization recognized by the world community, he said.

“Now all countries meet their commitments and their actions fully comply with the resolution of the UN Security Council, and we will support this deal,” Putin said.

Europe’s supportive stance

Helga Schmid, the secretary general of the European External Action Service, in an address to the 4th Europe-Iran Forum in the Swiss city of Zurich on Wednesday said European states will do their best to sustain the nuclear deal with Iran.

“This is not a bilateral agreement, it’s a multilateral agreement. As Europeans, we will do everything to make sure it stays,” Schmid said.

European ambassadors speaking in Washington last week said they would do everything possible to protect companies based in Europe and 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 they do not support renegotiating it.

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