The hiring of national security advisor John Bolton and the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State indicate that Donald Trump is moving closer and closer to making one of his signature campaign promises a reality: to kill the Iran deal as it currently exists. And with just weeks to go before a major Iran deal deadline, we’re starting to see a tiny bit of resistance—if you can even call it that—from people who might have some sway over Trump.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, defended the deal. “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 the committee. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability” to check on compliance.
Mattis knows who signs the checks, however, and added that the Iran deal was an “imperfect arms control agreement” that could be “improved upon.” “Whether or not [the deal] is sufficient, that is a valid question,” he said.
Also on Thursday, the nonprofit advocacy group J Street released a letter by 26 former top-ranking officials of Israel’s military imploring Trump to keep the deal intact:
The International Atomic Energy Agency has consistently and repeatedly found Iran to be in compliance with its obligations as ordered by the agreement. The consensus among military and intelligence agencies around the world — including Israel’s own defense community — is that the pact is working. While we acknowledge several caveats do exist in the deal, we are also in simultaneous agreement that ‘The Current Deal is Better Than No Deal’.
American abandonment of the agreement would undermine not just the deal, but Israel’s security as well. It would cause a division on a central question of Middle East security between the United States and Israel’s European allies. By doing so, it would further empower the deal’s hardline Iranian opponents — and most importantly The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Should US abandonment of the agreement lead to the pact’s demise, the consequences for Israeli security could be even more dire. Iran could resume the full scope of its former nuclear activities — or advance well beyond them ahead of time — unrestricted and unmonitored. Israel and its allies would be forced to consider taking drastic measures to attempt to restrain or destroy Iran’s nuclear program, including military operations that might trigger a major escalation and drive the entire region into direct confrontation, with no guarantee of achieving their goal.
The letter and Mattis’ comments come just a day after French president Emmanuel Macron told reporters that he thought Trump would scrap the Iran deal, saying such a decision would be “very insane.”
“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 said. “It can work in the short term but it’s very insane in the medium to long term” for the U.S. “to change [its] opposition so often.”
Macron had such little hope for the deal that he said his focus during his meetings with Trump was to figure out a path forward after the deal collapses. “I think the US will decide very tough sanctions,” Macron said. “I want to be the honest broker of the situation.”
Mattis said during the hearing that Trump’s meetings with European leaders were going on “as we speak” to decide “whether we can repair [the Iran deal] enough to stay in it, or if the president is going to decide to withdraw from it.”
Trump has until May 12 to decide whether or not the U.S. should remain in the deal. German chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with Trump in Washington tomorrow to discuss the Iran deal and Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. That should be a blast.