US defense secretary says 'no decision' yet on Iran deal
WASHINGTON D.C. - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday said no decision had been made on whether the United States is going to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
President Donald Trump is due on May 12 to announce his decision about whether America will stay in the historic pact, as US and European diplomats work on a supplemental deal to address his concerns.
"I can assure you there has been no decision made on any withdrawal from JCPOA," Mattis said of the deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"The discussions are ongoing in the national security staff and those of us who are charged with that responsibility of giving the president advice. It's going on today as we speak," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Though he thinks the deal is flawed, Mattis has previously said he supports America staying in it, telling lawmakers in October it is in the US national interest to do so.
But Mattis offered no such support Thursday.
"There are obviously aspects of the JCPOA... that can be improved on. We are working with our European allies on it at this time, and again at this time the decision has not been made whether we can repair it enough to stay, or if the president if going to decide to withdraw from it," he said.
Trump, who campaigned on scrapping the Iran deal, has branded it as "insane" and the "worst" in history.
"This is a deal with decayed foundations. It's a bad deal, it's a bad structure. It's falling down," Trump said Tuesday.
"We're going to see what happens on the 12th."
- Increased operations -
Mattis also told senior lawmakers that French special operations forces arrived in Syria over the past two weeks to help boost US-led efforts against the Islamic State group.
Mattis responded to a question about whether the United States was planning on pulling out of Syria -- something President Trump has said would happen "very soon."
Right now, "we are not withdrawing," Mattis told the Committee.
"You'll see a reenergized effort ... You'll see increased operations on the Iraqi side of the border, and the French just reinforced us in Syria with special forces here in the last two weeks. This is an ongoing fight right now," he said.
Trump on Tuesday appeared to walk back his vow to yank US troops from Syria, saying the United States wanted to "leave a strong and lasting footprint " in the country. Currently, about 2,000 US troops are in Syria, most of them commandos.
France is a longstanding member of the international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and helped bombard the jihadists in the Mosul area during the Iraqi operation to recapture the city.
France, along with the US and Britain, also took part in the April 14 cruise missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons-related facilities.