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Trump: Iran is violating the nuclear deal. Top US general: no, it isn’t.

The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just said the Iran deal is working.

DOD Secretary Mattis And Chairman Of Joint Chiefs Dunford Brief Press On ISIL
General Dunford.
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Donald Trump has been attacking the Iran nuclear deal basically since it was signed, even suggesting that his administration would formally declare that Iran was in violation of the pact by a key October deadline. “They are not in compliance with the agreement and they certainly are not in the spirit of the agreement in compliance,” Trump said at an August presser.

But yesterday, Trump’s criticism of the deal was contradicted by one of the most important officials imaginable: Marine Gen. James Dunford, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dunford’s comments came in a written Q&A submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of a Tuesday hearing on threats to the US. When asked by the committee whether Iran was complying with the Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, America’s top general unequivocally said yes.

“The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations,” he says.

In the next question, Dunford goes even further. Asked if the deal is working as intended — making it harder for Iran to get nuclear weapons — he says that it has. “The JCPOA has delayed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons,” Dunford writes.

Dunford’s comments echo those from another high-ranking officer, Air Force Gen. John Hyten. At a panel hosted by the conservative Hudson Institute last week, General Hyten — who leads US Strategic Command, responsible for (among other things) missile defense — said “the facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed up for under the JCPOA.”

Inconveniently for Trump, generals have facts on their side. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of monitoring the deal, has repeatedly certified that Tehran is complying with the limits on its nuclear program imposed by the deal. The Trump administration has not produced any evidence to the contrary; in fact, Trump’s own national security cabinet officials have pushed him to stay in the deal behind the scenes.

But top generals do not typically contradict their commander in chief on strategic issues like this in public. The fact that not one, but two, of America’s leading military officers has done so in recent days suggests that the military brass strongly believes that adhering to the Iran deal is in America’s best interest — and that the alternative could mean a war none of them want.

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