US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday said Iran is sticking to the terms of the nuclear deal, adding that the 2015 agreement between the Islamic Republic and world powers “still stands and that’s all I can say about it.”
Speaking in Tel Aviv alongside his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman, Mattis said the Iranians “appear to be living up to their part of the agreement.” The nuclear deal “continues to be in force,” the Pentagon chief said.
However, he also warned “that in no way mitigates against or excuses the other Iranian activities in the region including the war in Yemen that grinds on and what they’re doing in Syria” to keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power. “But the agreement on nuclear issues still stands and that’s all I can say about it,” he added.
The comments came days after the White House certified to US Congress that Tehran was complying — at least technically — with the terms of the deal, clearing the way for Iran to continue enjoying sanctions relief in the near term. On Thursday, US President Donald Trump asserted that Iran was “not living up to the spirit of the agreement.” On Tuesday, Trump ordered a review of the deal to be led by his National Security Council, although the State Department admits Iran has so far stuck to its side of the bargain.
In his remarks, Mattis stressed that the Iranian regime continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors “with ballistic missiles, through its maritime and cyber activities and through proxies and surrogates, including Lebanese Hezbollah, a terrorist organization helping to keep Assad in power in Syria.”
Liberman, meanwhile, warned that Iran was the “main problem” facing not only Israel, but the world. But the defense minister did not directly respond to a question on whether he sought to persuade the United States to repeal the Iran deal.
“I hope that with your help we will be able to overcome these threats and bring peace and stability to this region,” he told Mattis.
When asked about Syrian chemical weapons, Mattis said that there can be “no doubt” that the regime has retained a stockpile and warned Assad not to use them.
“The bottom line is there can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all,” Mattis said.
“It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically, and they’d be ill-advised to try to use any again. We’ve made that very clear with our strike.”
An Israeli assessment has found that Assad’s regime was still in possession of “a few tons” of chemical weapons, a military official confirmed.
Israel was among the first countries to salute Trump for a recent US strike on a Syrian airbase over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town that killed nearly 90 people.
In response to a question about whether Israel targets Islamic State forces operating in Sinai, Liberman said Jerusalem was satisfied with the Egyptian military’s efforts.
“We’re happy that the Egyptian forces are doing better in their fight against IS in Sinai and we saw that their last offensive was very, very effective,” he said, referring to Thursday’s airstrike which killed a senior Islamic State group cleric and 18 jihadists.
Friday’s meeting was the third between the US and Israeli defense chiefs since the Trump administration took office in January.
“The United States maintains absolute and unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to its qualitative military edge over Iran or other threats,” Mattis said.
Israel and the US have long had close strategic ties, with Washington providing Israel more than $3 billion per year in defense aid and Trump pledging unstinting support for the country.
Mattis was set to meet later on Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Mattis also said Friday that he was very pleased at the Senate confirmation of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, and that the new envoy will be moving to Israel next month.
Agencies contributed to this report.