WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Tuesday that he believes it is in U.S national security interest to remain in the Iran nuclear agreement despite repeated hints from President Donald Trump that he is inclined to scrap the deal.
During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Angus King asked Mattis: "Do you believe it is in our national security interest at the present time to remain in the (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)? That is a yes or no question."
Mattis replied, "Yes, senator, I do."
"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 added. "I believe at this point in time absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with."
But Mattis went on to explain that he also supports a rigorous review of national security issues related to Iran that may fall outside the exact terms of the agreement.
"The president has to consider more broadly things that rightly fall under his portfolio of looking out for the American people in areas that go beyond the specific letters of the JCPOA -- in that regard I support the rigorous review that he has got going on right now," he said.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the Iran deal, most recently during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month.
"We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program," Trump told the assembly.
The president and administration officials have said the deal doesn't address Iran's missile development or its activities in the region, including support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and for the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Money flowing to Iran because of sanctions relief is allowing Tehran to fund these destabilizing activities, the administration argues.
During his own address at the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it would be a "great pity" if "rogue newcomers" destroy the international nuclear deal that lifted sanctions in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.
"I declare to you the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party," he said.
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