Campaigns face off on controversial Iran report
The Trump and Clinton campaigns issued tough-on-Iran statements in the wake of a report that alleges that negotiators allowed Iran secret loopholes in the nuclear agreement.
The Institute for Science and International Affairs, a think tank founded by former United Nations nuclear weapons inspector David Albright, said in a report released last week that Iran complied with most of the requirements for sanctions relief for the nuclear rollback deal when it was implemented in January, but it said, citing anonymous sources, that there were a number of exemptions.
The Obama administration strongly denied the thrust of the report, saying the deal was being implemented according to the letter. Parties to the deal were Iran, the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China, and Russia.
The campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump, pounced on news of the report’s findings on Sept. 1, taking a shot at Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term helped set the stage for the deal.
“The deeply flawed nuclear deal Hillary Clinton secretly spearheaded with Iran looks worse and worse by the day,” said a statement by the campaign attributed to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now advising Trump.
“It’s now clear President Obama gave away the store to secure a weak agreement that is full of loopholes, never ultimately blocks Iran from nuclear weapons, emboldens our enemies and funds terrorism,” he said.
Republicans have strongly opposed the deal. A number of candidates during the GOP presidential primaries pledged to trash it, but Trump, while decrying it as a giveaway, has said he would first consult with his national security advisers should he be elected president.
Clinton has in subtle ways sought to differentiate herself from the deal’s outcome, praising the deal, but suggesting she would be more vigilant in keeping Iran on track.
In a statement, Clinton’s campaign did not address the report co-written by Albright directly, but called for reauthorization of sanctions and sounded a tough note about how she would oversee its implementation.
“Hillary Clinton supports a clean reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act and believes Congress should get this done in short order when they return from recess,” said her spokesperson, Jesse Lehrich. “And as president, she will also continue to enforce, and strengthen as necessary, sanctions on Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile activity.”
The Obama administration says it does not need a reauthorization of sanctions first passed in the 1990s and enhanced over the years, in order to force compliance, but would not oppose a reauthorization. Many — but not all — of the sanctions have been waived as part of the deal.
Democrats in Congress favor a “clean” reauthorization that they say would allow any future president to quickly “snap back” sanctions, while Republicans want to add new provisions to address Iranian misbehavior not addressed by the deal, including backing for terrorism and activities in other countries.
Democrats and Clinton oppose the Republican proposals, saying they are stealth maneuvers to undercut the deal.
“She has always made clear that while the historic deal passed last year represents a crucial step forward toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, we must proceed with a ‘distrust and verify’ approach,” Lehrich said of Clinton. “Maintaining the infrastructure to immediately snap back sanctions if Iran violates the terms of the deal is essential. Congress should put partisanship aside and send the president a clean ISA reauthorization bill for his signature.”
Citing a single anonymous “knowledgeable” government source, the report — first covered in the general media by Reuters — said the joint commission administering the deal allowed Iran to keep more than the prescribed amount of low-enriched uranium. The joint commission comprises representatives of Iran, the six major powers, and the European Union.
Under the deal, Iran is allowed to keep up to 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium, an amount too small to be turned into material sufficient to make a bomb. The report did not say how much uranium more than the 300 kilograms Iran was allegedly allowed to keep.
The report said also that the joint commission allowed Iran to continue to operate 19 “hot cells,” protected enrichment devices, that were larger than the six cubic meters prescribed by the deal. The deal allows Iran to keep the smaller hot cells to continue plutonium enrichment for medical purposes. The report said the larger hot cells “can be misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation.” It also noted that Iran under the deal was permitted to maintain the larger hot cells with the approval of the joint commission.
The report also noted that the joint commission allowed Iran to export a larger amount of heavy water than agreed under the deal, although this was previously reported. The report cited a “senior knowledgeable official” as saying that the exemptions were granted because Iran was not yet in full compliance by implementation day, Jan. 16 of this year.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it was “troubled” by Albright’s report. “If the report is accurate, this unwarranted leniency sets a dangerous precedent concerning adherence to the agreement,” it said in a statement. “No further concessions should be granted to Iran, and complete transparency related to the deal’s implementation must be provided.”
The Obama administration, in its responses, said that there were no shortcuts. The major powers “didn’t allow Iran any shortcuts implementing @TheIranDeal, and Iran’s commitments have not changed,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said in a tweet.
John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, speaking Thursday to reporters, said that the parameters of the deal had not changed, but that the joint commission was empowered to “address implementation issues when they arise.” He noted that the workings of the joint commission were confidential.