Pulling back the curtain on the sales job for the Iran deal

Jun 22
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Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna in January. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via Associated Press)
Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna in January. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via Associated Press)

By Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post
Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration glossed over evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program as it spun and sold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to Congress and the public. Iran analyst and JCPOA critic Omri Ceren emails, “The U.S. has concluded that Iran conducted activities relevant to creating nuclear weapons at Parchin. But the nuclear deal did not provide the UN’s nuclear watchdog — the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] — with sufficient access to determine what those activities were.” He concludes, “So now there are serious questions about the IAEA’s ability to verify the deal: the IAEA can’t verify that Iran has stopped its illicit activities at Parchin because the IAEA doesn’t know what those activities were.”

At yesterday’s State Department briefing, there was this awkward exchange:

MATT LEE, A.P: Right, but that’s what you believe not what the IAEA believes right? So and the argument has been made that the discovery of this — while it may not prove as you said some kind of nefarious activity — wouldn’t it make sense to go back and wouldn’t it be cause for doing some more checking to see what exactly was going on there if you are truly interested in finding out what the extent of the program was?

JOHN KIRBY: We had already made our conclusions about what had been going on there.

LEE, AP: But what your concluding…

KIRBY: I mean you could maybe address that question to the agency and maybe they would want to take that on, but we are comfortable…

LEE, AP: So the US government isn’t curious, or wasn’t curious at the time about what these — what the discovery of these particles actually meant?

KIRBY: We believe that the existence of them, as I said, are consistent with what our own understanding was — what we believed to be Iran’s past weapons program. They reaffirm what we had already said we believe — we thought was going on.

LEE, AP: And so there was no interest in going beyond that to find out exactly what was going on there?

KIRBY: In terms of the United States, again…

LEE, AP: I understand in terms of the IAEA they closed it but they did that — they did that because you basically — you essentially allowed them to. You and the other members of the…

KIRBY: I don’t know that I’d characterize it as allowing them to do that, but we’re comfortable that the existence of these particles, again reaffirms what we already believed to be the case.

LEE, AP: All right, but you don’t find it to be any — alarming — you don’t find it to be of more concern than the non-concern that you apparently had in December because it comported with what you thought was going on.

KIRBY: No. As a matter of fact, I mean, more important than the two articles was the Agency’s thorough discussion in the report of technology and structures uncovered by the investigation, which appear relevant to a former nuclear weapons program. And in some cases appear relevant to little else. So the report reaffirmed our view that the Agency is a highly skilled professional institution and is well positioned to carry out its monitoring and verification responsibilities.

LEE, AP: Yes, but you still don’t know exactly what was going on.

KIRBY: We believe we know…

LEE, AP: Exactly what was going on?

KIRBY: We believe we had — we’ve already made our statement and our case about past military programs.

Well, that’s not comforting. Ceren points out, “Kirby’s first response was that the IAEA’s findings were inconclusive. But that’s not an answer — it’s the criticism: the conditions imposed on the IAEA by the deal prevented the Agency into completing a conclusive investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons work.” Moreover, the claim that the United States had sufficient knowledge of what was going on is irrelevant. “The IAEA is the one doing the verification,” Ceren points out. More to the point, the extent of Iran’s nuclear program and the necessity of exacting inspections were key criticisms of the deal. By sloughing off evidence within its control that would have underscored both concerns, the Obama administration did not give Congress a complete picture of what it knew.


The bottom line here: This is one more instance in which the administration hid the ball, making a highly flawed deal seem better than it was. It’s all the more reason to apply stringent oversight going forward and, under the next president, to impose sufficient burdens on Iran so that flaws in the existing JCPOA might be corrected.

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