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Donald Trump confirmed on Sunday that retired Marine General James Mattis is a leading candidate for Secretary of Defense, a day after the two met at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The former Central Command (CENTCOM) commander was a strong critic of President Obama and his efforts to reach a rapprochement with the Iranian regime, saying that the President was “pretty much absent” in terms of crafting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
But while Mattis has in the past attacked the deal, since its signing by the Obama administration he’s called the agreement a fait accompli that must be accepted.
“We are going to have to recognize that we have an imperfect arms control agreement,” he said. “What we achieved was a nuclear pause, not a nuclear halt. We're going to have to plan for the worst.”
Those comments, made this April during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, were a far cry from claims by candidate Trump that he would renege the nuclear deal or renegotiate for a better one.
Backers of the Jewish state, who fear an Iranian nuclear weapon could pose an existential threat to Israel, were not comforted by Trump’s likely pick for Pentagon chief, a man with a history of troubling statements vis-à-vis Israel.
Speaking at a gathering of the Aspen Institute in 2013, Mattis gave his emphatic backing for Secretary of State John Kerry’s “valiant” efforts to reach a two-state solution, saying that the foundation of a Palestinian state was of paramount importance for not only Israel but the United States.
"So we've got to work on this with a sense of urgency,” Mattis said. “And I paid a military-security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM, because the Americans are seen as biased in support of Israel, and that moderates all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can't come out publicly in support of people who don't show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”
In addition, Mattis slammed Israeli control of Judea and Samaria as “unsustainable”, warning that Jewish “settlements” were liable to turn Israel into an “Apartheid” state.
"The current situation is unsustainable. It's got to be directly addressed. We don't want to turn this over to our children.
"We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported - we have go to get there. And the chances for it, as the King of Jordan has pointed out, are starting to ebb because the settlements and where they're at are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option.
"For example, if I'm Jerusalem, and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here somewhere to the east and there's 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say that the Arabs don't get to vote - Apartheid. And that didn't work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country."
While the Trump transition team has yet to issue a formal statement on the choice of Defense Secretary, Trump tweeted on Sunday regarding his meeting with Mattis Saturday afternoon, praising him as a “true General’s General”.