President Donald Trump was infuriated when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and top national security aides pressured him to recertify the landmark 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran in July, The Washington Post reported.
“He threw a fit,” an unnamed source familiar with the discussion told the Post. “He was furious. Really furious. It’s clear he felt jammed.”
Trump has long railed against the agreement, negotiated by the Obama administration, promising to “rip up” the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
But on July 17, the president recertified the agreement — which is required by Congress every 90 days — for the second time, after he was warned that withdrawing would threaten US national security interests and told that, while the deal is imperfect, it provides crucial benefits for the US and its allies.
The decision was made after “hours of arguing,” The New York Times reported.
Last Thursday, Trump said in a meeting with his top military leaders that Iran had “not lived up to the spirit of their agreement” that aims to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed, and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump said. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions.”
But earlier this month, Mattis publicly broke with the president, telling Congress he believes it is in the US national security interest to remain a party to the agreement, which also involves several other nations.
In August, The Guardian reported that the Trump White House was pushing intelligence analysts to provide justification for declaring Iran in violation of the tenants of the deal. That pressure reportedly reminded some analysts of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“They told me there was a sense of revulsion. There was a sense of déjà vu,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who served as special adviser to former President Barack Obama. “There was a sense of, ‘We’ve seen this movie before.'”
Mattis, Tillerson, and others are reportedly crafting a compromise in which Trump will announce new conditions for the US’s involvement in the deal and push the issue to Congress, thus leaving the option of abandoning the agreement open.
“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 3. “I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.”
The deal is supported by key US allies, including the UK, whose conservative foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, reaffirmed the country’s support of the agreement, arguing that it “neutralized” Iran’s nuclear threat.
Experts argue that Trump’s motivations for scrapping the deal are more political than strategic.
“He doesn’t want to certify the Iran deal for more domestic reasons than international ones,” Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told the Post. “He doesn’t want to certify that any piece of the Obama strategy is working.”