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US made no decision yet on whether to stay in Iran’s nuclear deal: Mattis

The US secretary of defense says the country’s administration has yet made no decision on whether or not to stay in the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran as a deadline for the White House to make an announcement on the matter draws closer.

“I can assure you there has been no decision made on any withdrawal from JCPOA,” said James Mattis on Thursday, using an acronym to refer to the deal, which is officially called 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.

He further claimed that “there are obviously aspects of the JCPOA…that can be improved on,” adding that Washington is currently working with its allies in the European Union on this issue.

Mattis had previously said he supported the US staying in the JCPOA. He told lawmakers last October that it was in the national interest of the US to do so.

US President Donald Trump has until May 12 to decide whether to once again waive Iran’s nuclear-related sanctions, which were lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal. He had said back in January that it was the last time the US extended the sanctions relief for Iran, urging the European signatories to work to fix the “flaws” in the JCPOA by that date or he would pull the US out of the seven-party deal.

This is while all other parties to the Iran deal have voiced full support for the international document, which they say should be kept as it is.

Iran has also repeatedly said that it will not renegotiate the JCPOA and stands ready to respond to a possible US pullout.

Mattis’ remarks came after French President Emmanuel Macron, who just visited Washington, said he believed Trump would pull the United States out of the nuclear agreement.

Earlier on Wednesday, Macron urged US congressmen to ensure the US will not abandon the JCPOA a day after he raised controversy in Europe by talking of a “new deal” with Iran, which he said would run alongside the existing one and address Tehran’s defense program and regional role.

The comments by Macron, who was in the US to help persuade Trump to keep the deal, prompted a critical response from the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, who reaffirmed the deal was working and thus should be saved.

Mattis further touched on the rapprochement with North Korea, rejecting concerns that a US withdrawal from the Iran deal would affect the upcoming talks with Pyongyang.

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