WASHINGTON — The Trump administration asserted on Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear capabilities were substantially more advanced than Tehran indicated when it entered into the landmark nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015.
“The problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense: Iran lied on the front end,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. “They were dishonest actors. The deal that was made was made on things that weren’t accurate. We have a big problem with that, particularly the fact that Iran’s nuclear capabilities were far more advanced and more further along than they ever indicated.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech detailing Iran’s covert past nuclear weapons development, based on the capture of a large cache of secret Iranian documents. US President Donald Trump immediately sought to seize upon the revelations, casting them as vindication of his longtime opposition to the nuclear deal. “What we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right,” he said.
Meanwhile, the White House, in an official statement, said the trove of documents provided “new and compelling details about Iran’s efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.” The Israeli premier has also been criticized, with voices on the American right and left accusing him of adding no new insights about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
The outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said Monday Netanyahu’s presentation provided “nothing new” and was “not groundbreaking.”
The prime minister has also been derided for treating as a revelation the fact that Iran lied about its previous nuclear work; supporters of the deal argue that it was predicated on the knowledge that Iran had lied — and that it was built on the verification of an intrusive inspections regime, not trust in Iranian integrity.
Iran itself has dismissed Netanyahu’s reveals as lies and propaganda. The state-run IRNA news agency said the prime minister was “famous for ridiculous shows.” The semi-official Fars news agency, believed to be close to the Revolutionary Guards, dismissed his speech as a “propaganda show.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Netanyahu was “crying wolf.”
Debate about the Israeli intelligence scoop — and what it says about the efficacy of the Joint Comprehensive Pan of Action, as the deal is formally known — comes less than two weeks before Trump’s self-imposed deadline to amend the nuclear deal or walk away from it.
In January, the US president kept the pact alive by waiving sanctions against Iran, but said he would not waive them again on May 12, the next deadline under the deal, unless European allies and Congress addressed what he sees as its cardinal flaws.
One of his biggest objections to the JCPOA is its sunset provisions, which allow certain restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program to expire over time.
Sanders reiterated those concerns Tuesday while not answering whether Trump has made a decision yet.
“If this nuclear deal maintains as it is now, when the sunset provision hits in seven years, they will be much further along in the process and able to make a nuclear weapon much quicker than they’ve ever indicated before,” she said. “And that’s a big problem.”