Mattis Contradicts Trump on Iran Deal Ahead of Crucial Deadline
Mr. Mattis came to office with well-established, hawkish views of Iran, whose support of Syria’s government and of Hezbollah, he believed, had cost American lives. But he has always taken the position that if he had to confront Iran, he would rather confront a non-nuclear Iran, and that the agreement was preventing the country from possessing or making enough bomb-grade material for a weapon.
Asked on Capitol Hill on Tuesday whether he had changed his view, Mr. Mattis said he supports “the rigorous review that he has got going on right now.”
When that answer did not satisfy the committee, Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, asked whether the defense secretary thought holding onto the nuclear pact is in the interest of the national security of the United States.
Mr. Mattis, a retired Marine general, paused before replying: “Yes, senator, I do.”
An administration official said that no difference existed between the president’s views and those of his secretary of defense on the Iran deal.
But the evident dissonance between the president and his senior national security advisers has taken on greater consequence in the cases of Iran and North Korea, which are potentially questions of war or peace.
Amid the simmering North Korean crisis, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters in Beijing over the weekend that he was keeping “a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang” to defuse the situation. The next morning, he was slapped down by Mr. Trump, who read newspaper accounts of that conversation and tweeted “save your energy Rex,” complaining that Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president’s derisive nickname for Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
White House officials said Mr. Trump was angry that his secretary of state was suggesting it was time to talk with North Korea, when official administration policy is that the North must earn the right — by halting missile and nuclear tests for an unspecified period of time.