CIA chief says criticism of Iran deal ‘disingenuous’

John Brennan defends framework agreement but concedes lifting of sanctions cause for concern

CIA Director John Brennan. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
CIA Director John Brennan. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

CIA director John Brennan gave a staunch defense of the framework nuclear deal with Iran on Tuesday, calling some criticism of the accord “disingenuous” while expressing surprise at Tehran’s concessions.

In his first public remarks since the outline agreement was announced last week, the spy agency chief said the deal would impose a litany of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work that had once seemed impossible to secure.

“I must tell you the individuals who say this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous, in my view, if they know the facts, understand what’s required for a (nuclear) program,” Brennan told an audience at Harvard University.

The accord would mean “cutting off pathways not just to uranium enrichment but to plutonium enrichment” and include a “very intrusive inspection regime,” he said.

“I certainly am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here. In terms of the inspections regime, the reduction as far as the centrifuges, the stockpile, what they’re doing with the Arak reactor, all of that I think is really quite surprising and quite good.”

Citing Tehran’s “concessions,” including agreeing to a dramatic reduction of centrifuges, Brennan said: “Boy, nobody ever thought they would do that at the beginning.”

Some critics were less focused on Iran’s nuclear program and more on the effect of lifting sanctions on Iran, as they worry it will allow Tehran to “cause more trouble throughout the area,” Brennan said.

That was a legitimate cause for concern, he said. But the framework deal itself offered a way of curtailing any attempt by Iran to build nuclear weapons and is “as solid as you can get,” he said.

However, US and allied intelligence agencies would be closely monitoring how Iran implemented any deal and there was no expectation that Tehran would alter its stance in the region, he said.

It was unclear if the pragmatic approach demonstrated by President Hassan Rouhani on the nuclear negotiations would “migrate to other areas of Iranian foreign policy,” he said.

“I think we’ll see. But I don’t think this is going to lead to a light switch when all of a sudden the Iranians are going to become passive, docile in the region, no.”

He said Iran’s attitude on the issue had changed since President Barack Obama entered office six years ago mainly because sanctions had hit the country’s economy hard, he said.

Rouhani also was a “more reasonable” figure who had gotten a green light from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, to try to broker a deal, Brennan said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out strongly against the deal, charging that it paves the way for Iran to get a nuclear weapons and threatens Israel’s survival. He’s also demanded that formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist be included in the final agreement with Iran, due to be signed on June 30 — a demand rejected by the State Department and the White House.

On Monday, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a confidant and Likud party colleague of Netanyahu, presented a list of Israeli demands aimed at improving the terms of the world powers’ deal with Iran in the weeks ahead of its scheduled completion by June 30.

The changes proposed by Steinitz include the following: barring further Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges; significantly reducing the number of centrifuges Iran would have available to reactivate if it violates the deal; shuttering the Fordo underground enrichment facility; requiring Iran’s compliance in detailing previous nuclear activities with possible military dimensions; shipping its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium out of the country; and ensuring “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Iran’s facilities. Such changes, said Steinitz, would render a final deal “more reasonable.”

The White House has ruled out any changes to the real.

On Sunday, Netanyahu went on a media blitz, appearing on three US networks as paving the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

The Times of Israel has learned that Netanyahu intends to continue his push for “a better deal” in further US media appearances, since he regards American public opinion as the most potential important area in pressing for terms that would thwart Iran’s nuclear drive. Notably, Netanyahu has not invested similar efforts in reaching out to the media of other P5+1 countries.

Israeli officials are also expected to engage in extensive dialogue with their American counterparts, in order to argue for changes in the deal, in the weeks leading up to June 30.

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