Mar 13, 2018, 4:26 PM ET

Tillerson's support for Iran deal helped get him fired, but Mattis shares his views

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Shortly after President Donald Trump announced the dismissal of his top diplomat on Twitter, he told reporters outside the White House that their different opinions on the Iran nuclear deal contributed to his decision to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

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Trump wants to replace Tillerson with current CIA director Mike Pompeo, a fierce critic of the Iran deal who once called the agreement "disastrous."

"Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things," Trump said Tuesday morning.

"When you look at the Iran Deal. I thought it was terrible. He thought it was okay," Trump said. "I wanted to either break it or do something, he felt a little differently. So we were not really thinking the same."

But Tillerson was not alone in his view that the international agreement - which restricts Iran's enrichment of uranium and its stockpiles - should stay.

Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress last October that it's in America's national security interest to keep the agreement.

"If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly, we should stay with it," Mattis said. "I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with."

Trump, in contrast, has repeatedly called it one of the "worst deals" in U.S. history, and in January threatened to withdraw the U.S. unless European allies worked with the administration to sanction Iran's ballistic missile program and combat its other "malign" behavior.

Mattis' view backs up those of his top generals, including the head of U.S. Central Command, who told senators on Tuesday that the deal is in America's national security interests, saying it "addresses one of the principal threats that we deal with from Iran."

Gen. Joseph Votel added that if the agreement goes away, the U.S. will need "another way" to deal with Iran's nuclear weapons.

In September, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told Congress that the intelligence community's assessment was that Iran was in compliance with the deal, and therefore the U.S. should "focus on addressing the other challenges" posed by Iran.

Dunford warned that "holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there's a material breach, would have an impact on others' willingness to sign agreements."

President Donald Trump prays during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. From left, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.AP
President Donald Trump prays during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. From left, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Trump and Tillerson disagreed on several top foreign policy issues beyond the Iran deal, including North Korea, the Paris Climate accord, and multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and TPP.

But the differences became personal when, in October, Tillerson would not directly deny reports that he called the president a “moron.” Trump shot back with allegations that he was smarter than his top diplomat, saying the two should "compare IQ tests."

Fourteen months into the Trump administration, Mattis has avoided the scrutiny from his boss directed at so many of his colleagues.

If Tillerson wasn't in lockstep with Trump, Mattis has given off the impression that the two had a close relationship and were often allies. Most recently, both Tillerson and Mattis opposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In January, Mattis said he spoke with Tillerson "two, three times a day" and shared weekly breakfasts.

Now, Mattis will adopt that working relationship with Pompeo, with whom he already interacts frequently as CIA director.

News - Tillerson's support for Iran deal helped get him fired, but Mattis shares his views

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  • Nearl45 5

    Mattis, McMaster, Sessions, Kelly all out.

    Trump is hiring all loyalists.

  • NuffAlready

    Much as I tried, I wanted to believe that Donald was praying for the country in this photo. Call my a cynic, but I'm guessing I'm not alone in thinking he's praying for everything BUT the country.

  • Steve in CT

    The final straw was when Tillerson agreed with the British Prime Minister that the Russians had poisoned the ex-Spy and his daughter. Thou shall not speak evil of the Russians.

  • mikevietvet68/69

    trump needs weapons of mass destruction lies so he can tell the people why he bombed iran,aka persia,but where will he get soldiers to fight? oh i guess he can get cannon fodder from the drug rehabs across the nation.

  • Ira Cohen

    Tillerson was not well organized nor did he correctly staff the state department. He was not prepared for that kind of government role. But now that he’s gone Pompeo will be trumps boy. That means there are no cushions between Trump and his nationalist policies. It’s going to be a bumpy ride And not a safe one

  • the observer

    Probably via tweet when Don is on the back nine in a few weeks.

  • bibleexpert

    It seems Tillerson was making it too difficult to declare war on Iran.

  • JohnC

    If Trump gets out of the Iran deal, what will he do about Iran instead? It's not likely he can make another deal so we just let them build nukes then invade them when they do? What is the plan?

  • Emma Lou #2

    trumps ever changing sycophants.

  • Bronx

    Answer to question in the headline-- sure.

    But it is more likely that what will get him fired was his refusal to be obsequious during cabinet meetings.

    See how long it took Trump to get his revenge for Tillerson calling him a moron?

    The instant Mathis objects to using military force against N Korea on insufficient reason to use such force,
    Trump will fire him-- if not sooner.

  • tatertaut

    Could be Mattis, could be McMasters...heck, it could be just about anyone. When trump gets a wild hair up his nose, he goes batcrap crazy and throws hissy fits. Hey, maybe he'll fire himself.:))

  • kritikosman

    Anything could get him fired--It's Trump's apparatus, remember?

  • xThatxSamexDudex

    A good leader keeps people with different opinions on staff intonorder to see different perspectives.
    The cabinet is being emptied and Trump looks like he's attempting to consolidate power.
    This should be interesting...

  • Prophet With Honor

    If Trump fires Mattis over Iran
    Mattis will switch his persona from Warrior Monk to Mad Dog.
    He'll rip Trump to shreds.

  • Lee Thompson

    Yes. Mattis is at risk . . .

  • helicohunter

    Being dissatisfied with his cheeseburger is enough reason for Rump to fire someone

  • FfloydZzepp

    How do Republicans live in their desperate delusion while America burns?

  • Pescadofisk

    Yeah fire everyone you moron. All you need is butt smoochers like Steve Miller.

  • J-dawg

    Mattis is the last thing holding this rickety ship together. If he goes, things will fall the rest of the way apart within a couple weeks.

  • ROBOTIX JONES

    This is getting scary. It's like Trump actually is trying to destroy this country from within to please Putin. Every decision is pure poison for this country.

  • Puddin' Twain

    Rule of Thumb: If a member of the Trump Administration is considered "one of the adults in the room," Then Trump will fire him. Trump will purge all the "adults in the room."

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    So it appears that Trump is looking at the George W strategy for re-election. Start a war or two and people will be afraid to change leadership in the middle of it all.

  • JohnC

    Trump can withdraw from the Iran agreement but he can't make a new deal. Not possible. So either the deal with other countries helps Iran stay on track or they start making nukes again and we go to a war that was never needed. Seems most everyone but Trump knows this. Better would be to make NEW deals to cover things missed by the current deal but keep the current deal also intact.