By Michael Hernandez
Staying in the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is in the U.S. national interest, Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday.
The acknowledgement comes as President Donald Trump is expected to issue a decision later this month on whether he will keep the U.S. in the internationally-brokered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"The point I would make is if we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interests, then clearly, we should stay with it," Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with."
But Mattis added he supports Trump's "rigorous review" of the agreement, which provided Iran with relief from international sanctions in exchange for widespread curbs and inspections of its nuclear program.
Congress requires presidents to certify Iran is in compliance with the agreement every 90 days. The next deadline is Oct. 15.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford later said he believes Iran is not in material breach of the accord he believes has delayed Tehran’s development of a nuclear capability.
Trump campaigned against the agreement during last year's race for the White House and used his first UN address to decry the deal he said was an "embarrassment to the United States."
He commonly refers to the JCPOA as one of the worst deals he has ever seen.
A unilateral U.S. exit from the agreement would likely have undesirable consequences for Washington -- isolating it from its negotiating partners that include close European allies, and potentially forcing the U.S. to sanction them if they continue to keep with the accord's parameters.
Switching to North Korea, Mattis said Trump has continued to push him and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pursue a diplomatic solution, even after the U.S. president publicly stated he told Tillerson to halt diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.
Last weekend, Trump said on Twitter that Tillerson is "wasting his time" negotiating with North Korea and urged him not to waste his time.
"I believe that Secretary Tillerson's remarks about probing North Korea to see if they're ready to talk is what the president was referring to, not the diplomatic effort writ large," Mattis said.