A top US general on Tuesday signaled support for the Iran nuclear deal, saying the agreement, which President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from, has played an important role in limiting Iran's nuclear program.
"The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program," said US Army General Joseph Votel, head of the US military's Central Command.
Votel's statements—irregular for a current high ranking army officer—were voiced only a week after President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened in the White House to discuss ways of changing the nuclear deal.
Trump has threatened to withdraw the United States from the accord between Tehran and six world powers unless Congress and European allies help "fix" it with a follow-up pact. Trump does not like the deal's limited duration, among other things, and said that he has certified Iran's compliance—as he has to once every few months or the deal expires—for the last time.
He was speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, using an acronym for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the accord with Iran agreed in July 2015 in Vienna.
When asked by a lawmaker whether he agreed with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford's position on the deal, Votel said, "Yes, I share their position."
Earlier Tuesday, Trump announced the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, partly due to disagreements surrounding the nuclear deal.
Mattis said late last year that the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven that Tehran was not complying or that the agreement was not in the US national interest.
Dunford, the top ranking US military officer, has said Iran was complying with the pact and has warned that any American decision to walk away would make other nations less likely to enter into agreement with the United States.
A collapse of the Iran nuclear deal would be a "great loss", the UN atomic watchdog's chief warned Trump recently, giving a wide-ranging defense of the accord and the agency's work under it.
Iran has stayed within the deal's restrictions since Trump took office but has fired diplomatic warning shots at Washington in recent weeks. It said on Monday that it could rapidly enrich uranium to a higher degree of purity if the deal collapsed.
After his meeting with Trump in Washington last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the AIPAC conference that he "saluted" President Trump on his tough stance toward the Iranian regime and pledged Israel's unwavering support in the event that the US announces its withdrawal from the agreement signed by the Obama administration.
"Israel will be right there by America's side, and let me tell you, so will other countries in the region," he told the jubilant sea of Israel supporters.