U.S. President Donald Trump's pick to become Washington's top diplomat sought to defuse fears that he might advocate withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal, saying he will continue working with U.S. allies to try to strengthen and "fix" the agreement.
Trump's nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo last month to be his next secretary of state prompted fears that Trump would soon abandon Iran's 2015 agreement with world powers because Pompeo was a strident opponent of the deal and critic of Iran as a member of Congress.
But at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12, Pompeo said he would pick up where former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left off -- working with European allies to try to strengthen and "fix" the deal.
"I want to fix this deal. That's the objective," Pompeo told the Senate committee. "If there is no chance to fix it, I'll recommend to the president we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and a better deal."
Trump faces a deadline early next month to decide on whether to continue waiving U.S. sanctions against Iran, as required under the deal in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear activities.
Trump has said he will not sign another sanctions waiver until what he has called the "disasterous flaws" in the deal are fixed.
But despite Trump's charges that Tehran has violated the "spirit" of the agreement by continuing to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles since 2015, Pompeo said he has "seen no evidence that they are not in compliance today."
The CIA director added that he did not believe Iran would be able to quickly develop nuclear weapons should the agreement fall apart. Tehran has recently threatened to quickly resume suspended nuclear activities if Trump withdraws from the deal.
Pompeo said he would continue Tillerson's efforts to negotiate a side deal aimed at strengthening the nuclear accord in talks with European allies France, Britain, and Germany, which are among the six world powers that signed the deal.
European negotiators who held talks with U.S. negotiator Brian Hook in Washington on April 12 said they believe that they are making headway toward an agreement to address Trump's concerns with the nuclear deal, Reuters reported.
Reuters quoted a European diplomat as saying, "If the U.S. agrees to...working with the Europeans to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is only for civilian use forever, then we can agree on something."
But the diplomat said that European negotiators couldn't agree to anything that is explicitly prohibited under the 2015 agreement.
Trump has said he sees three defects in the nuclear deal: its failure to curb Iran's ballistic-missile development, its limits on which Iranian nuclear sites international inspectors can visit, and its scheduled expiration of curbs on uranium enrichment and other Iranian nuclear activities after 10 years.
A second European diplomat quoted by Reuters was pessimistic that negotiators can reach an agreement that will be acceptable to Trump, who the diplomat described as "volatile."
Both France's President Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to visit Washington in the next month, in part to lobby Trump to preserve the Iran deal, which they see as the best way to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.