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Netanyahu’s Iran nuke claims fail to convince deal backers

EU chief says revelations don’t prove Tehran is violating terms of 2015 deal; France, Britain: Presentation strengthens case for keeping nuclear accord

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces new details on Iran's nuclear program, April 30, 2018. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces new details on Iran's nuclear program, April 30, 2018. (Screenshot)

Israel began sharing an intelligence trove on Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions Tuesday, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced accusations his televised unveiling lacked evidence that the 2015 accord had been violated.

Netanyahu’s elaborate presentation live on television Monday night came ahead of a crucial decision by US President Donald Trump by May 12 on whether to withdraw from the nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran.

The Israeli premier said tens of thousands of documents recently recovered by intelligence operatives in Tehran proved his country’s main enemy Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program it could put into action at any time.

But the presentation, which included props, video and slides, immediately led to accusations from some that the White House and Netanyahu coordinated it as Trump considers whether to pull out of the nuclear deal he has harshly criticized.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says prove Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Some analysts and proponents of the nuclear agreement also said Netanyahu had presented previously known details and failed to produce evidence that showed Iran was not abiding by the accord.

“I have not seen from Prime Minister Netanyahu arguments for the moment on non-compliance, meaning violation by Iran of its nuclear commitments under the deal,” European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said.

“And again, the deal was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties, otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place.”

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini addresses a press conference during a Foreign Ministers meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on March 19, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

France’s foreign ministry said Tuesday Netanyahu’s claims reinforced the importance of the nuclear deal.

So did Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. “The Israeli prime minister’s presentation on Iran’s past research into nuclear weapons technology underlines the importance of keeping the Iran nuclear deal’s constraints on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions,” Johnson said in a Foreign Office statement.

The statement went on, “The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions; rather it is based on tough verification, including measures that allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program.”

“The verification provisions in the Iran nuclear deal would make it harder for Iran to restart any such research. That is another good reason for keeping the deal while building on it in order to take account of the legitimate concerns of the US and our other allies,” Johnson added.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) shakes hands with his British counterpart Boris Johnson during a meeting in Tehran on December 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iran lashed out at Netanyahu, with foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on Tuesday calling him an “infamous liar.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said immediately after the presentation that Netanyahu was “the boy who cries wolf.”

Trump, however, welcomed Netanyahu’s presentation, as did his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with the Israeli leader on Sunday in Tel Aviv.

The White House caused some confusion with its statement on the Israeli trove, at first saying it showed Iran “has” a secret nuclear weapons program before later changing it to “had.”

“These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” the statement said.

“The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbors and others. Iran must never have nuclear weapons.”

Trump and his Middle East allies, particularly Israel, argue that the agreement approved by Barack Obama was too weak and needs to be replaced with a more permanent arrangement and supplemented by controls on Iran’s missile program.

The Israeli premier has repeatedly called for the accord — which Iran signed with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — to either be altered or scrapped.

In Monday night’s presentation, Netanyahu accused Iran of lying about its nuclear ambitions, saying Israel had recently obtained tens of thousands of files in a “great intelligence achievement.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposes files that prove Iran’s nuclear program in a press conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Iran has always denied it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic program was for civilian purposes.

Netanyahu said the files had been moved to a secret compound in Tehran in 2017 that looked dilapidated from the outside.

The material obtained weighed a half a ton, he said, speaking in English in the staged presentation in front of a bookcase laden with binders he said held copies of original documents and cases of CDs.

He detailed an alleged program — “Project Amad” — that he said Iran was forced to shelve in 2003, but kept ready to put into action at any time while improving its “know-how.”

He alleged the 2015 nuclear deal was “based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception.”

“Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons know-how for future use,” Netanyahu added.

Pompeo, until last week director of the CIA, called the intelligence trove authentic and said much of it was new to US experts.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) is seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

But others argued that it failed to show that the nuclear accord was a “terrible deal,” as Netanyahu called it, with some saying his presentation in fact furthered the case for the agreement.

“The information in the documents Netanyahu revealed is not new,” Dan Shapiro, US ambassador to Israel under Obama, said on Twitter, echoing the reactions of many other proponents of the deal.

But he added that Netanyahu’s presentation will be “useful to Trump when he announces he is leaving the deal by May 12. I believe he has already made that decision. This presentation, coordinated with his team, will be cited as evidence to justify it.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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