White House officials tone down Trump rhetoric, insist U.S. will stay in Iran deal.

White House Officials Tone Down Trump Rhetoric, Insist U.S. Will Stay in Iran Deal (for Now)

White House Officials Tone Down Trump Rhetoric, Insist U.S. Will Stay in Iran Deal (for Now)

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Oct. 15 2017 5:54 PM

White House Officials Tone Down Trump Rhetoric, Insist U.S. Will Stay in Iran Deal

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Trump speaks to the press with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Aug. 11 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Senior officials from President Donald Trump’s administration were in firefighting mode on the Sunday talk shows once again, emphasizing that the United States wants to stay part of the Iran nuclear deal. At least for now. Even though Trump himself harshly criticized the agreement on Friday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster all emphasized that the United States was not going to make any imminent decisions on the deal. The effort to calm the waters came after days of harsh criticism from the country’s European allies, members of Congress, and Iran itself, after Trump laid out conditions for the continued participation of the United States in the multilateral agreement.

“I think right now you are going to see us stay in the deal,” Haley said during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. “What we hope is that we can improve the situation.” McMaster, meanwhile, told Fox News Sunday that what the president had done was “set out a marker” to make sure that the United States and its allies can fix the deal “that is being weakly monitored.”* Tillerson, for his part, flat-out said he agrees with those who say the Iran nuclear deal is in the best interest of the United States. “And I think the president does as well,” Tillerson added.

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At one point of his interview with Tillerson, CNN’s Jake Tapper wondered why the country’s top diplomat would say that Iran was in compliance with the deal when Trump seemingly said the opposite thing on Friday. “Which is it?” Tapper asked. “Is Iran in technical compliance, or has it committed multiple violations?” Tillerson replied: “The answer is really both, Jake.”

How is it possible for Iran to be both in compliance and violation of the agreement? Tillerson explained the agreement allows Iran to correct any violations. “They have remedied the violations, which then brings them back into technical compliance,” Tillerson said. “I think, though, that demonstrated pattern of always walking right up against the edges of the agreement are what give us some concern as to how far Iran might be willing to go to test the limits from its side of the agreement.” Haley agreed that while Iran is not technically in violation of the agreement, Trump wants to find a way “to hold them accountable.”

The officials did warn that it was up to Congress to show progress on improving the deal and that the possibility of exiting the agreement was still on the table. Tillerson said Congress and U.S. allies should see Trump’s words as a “signal” or warning about what could happen if problems with the agreement aren’t addressed. “If we don’t see improvement, there is no sense in staying in, and he has every intention of walking out,” Tillerson said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

*Correction, Oct. 16, 2017: This post originally misstated where McMaster spoke about the Iran deal. It was to Fox News Sunday, not on Fox News.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.