WASHINGTON — The leading Republican senator on foreign policy appeared unimpressed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Monday detailing Iran’s covert past nuclear weapons development, calling the shared revelations “nothing new” and “not groundbreaking.”
“It’s nothing new,” said Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican of Tennessee, in an interview with Bloomberg. “We knew of the possible military dimensions of their program up until 2003. The Obama administration, when they were negotiating the JCPOA, chose not to pursue that issue.”
“But we’ve all known,” he added. “It’s like the biggest known secret out there relative to their previous activities. So this is really not groundbreaking. We’ve known of this for some time.”
Corker, the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is one of many Washington power players to weigh in on the fierce debate over the Israeli premier’s slideshow of Israel’s intelligence scoop — and how much, or how little, it adds to the discourse surrounding the Iran nuclear deal’s efficacy.
Corker’s stance was decidedly different from the White House, which said the information “provides new and compelling details about Iran’s efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, until last week the director of the CIA, said the documents were authentic and much of the material was new to US experts.
“I know that there are people talking about these documents not being authentic. I can confirm with you, for you, that these documents are real, they are authentic,” he said.
Asked whether the United States had been aware for many years that Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program — dubbed Project Amad — before 2004, Pompeo said: “That’s partly true. The existence of the Amad program ended roughly in December 2003, January 2004.
“It’s accurate to say that the knowledge of that, the fact of that, has been known for quite some time, but there are thousands of new documents and new information,” the top US diplomat added.
US President Trump tried to seize on Netanyahu’s disclosures that Israel had obtained 100,000 secret Iranian documents pertaining to the nuclear program. “What’s happening today and what’s happened over the last little while and what we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right,” he said at a press conference in the Rose Garden Monday.
He would not say whether he would exit the pact. Less than two weeks away is the president’s self-imposed May 12 deadline for walking away from the accord if Congress and European allies can’t amend it to his liking.
Other Republican members of Congress heaped praise on Netanyahu’s speech. “The prime minister’s presentation was remarkable — unprecedented — and worth watching in full,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also said it meant Trump should choose the “nix it” option in his “fix it or nix it” formulation.
“In light of these astonishing revelations, the course before President Trump is clear … the United States should therefore withdraw immediately, re-impose crushing sanctions, work to encourage our allies to do the same, and do everything necessary to insure that the Ayatollah Khamenei never — never — acquires the nuclear weapons,” Cruz said.
Another Republican member of Congress — likewise a steadfast conservative — Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, called the intelligence “stunning.”
“The Iran Deal was and has always been a foreign policy debacle,” he said. “But today’s stunning intel presentation from @netanyahu provides even more troubling context. All along it was built on a crumbling foundation of lies, deception, and naivete. This ‘deal’ should be shredded.”
Yet the immediate reactions from Capitol Hill lawmakers also descended into partisan arguments, with Democrats asserting that Trump’s — and GOP legislators’ — antipathy to the landmark agreement was all to spite his predecessor. “The reason they want to undo the Iran Deal is Barack Obama,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street also issued conflicting responses to the trove of intelligence.
AIPAC, for its part, said it “revealed startling new evidence… that Iran has been lying to the international community about its nuclear program for decades.” The information, the powerful pro-Israel lobby said, underscores “the importance of the United States and our allies fully addressing the shortcomings of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” referring to the deal’s formal name.
J Street, however, had a different take. “Prime Minister Netanyahu today unintentionally made an excellent case for why it is so vital to maintain the Iran nuclear agreement,” said Dylan Williams, the liberal group’s vice president of government affairs.
He alluded to Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, recently telling Congress that the deal was effectively succeeding as an arms control agreement. “I will say it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in.”
Williams added, “Nothing we were shown today contradicts or disproves that expert assessment.”
AFP contributed to this report.