State Governors: Don’t Be Fooled by Obama Admin’s Claims About Iran Nuclear Deal

Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney wrote this week about President Obama’s effort to press U.S. governors to rescind state-level statutory sanctions against Iran because of the fraudulent nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) and its sponsorship of terrorism.  Gaffney noted that

“Texas Governor Greg Abbott actually called the President out for his malfeasance. He said, in part: “Because the Iran deal is fundamentally flawed and does not permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability, Texas will maintain its sanctions against Iran.” For good measure, Mr. Abbott told the President: “Further, because your administration has recklessly and unilaterally removed critical sanctions, I have called on the Texas legislature to strengthen the Iran sanctions that Texas already has in place.”

Governor Abbott, in a May 31, 2016 letter called on other governors to join Texas and pass or strengthen legislation prohibiting state pension and retirement funds, local governments and all state entities from investing in Iran or entities that do business in Iran, barring local governments.

14 governors joined Abbott in sending a letter to President Obama last September opposing the JCPOA and pledging that they will not lift state-level sanctions against Iran.  This letter was signed by the governors of Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

The Obama administration is trying to convince state governments to lift state sanctions against Iran by claiming that the JCPOA is working and Iran is in compliance. Stephen Mull, who oversees the Iran deal for the State Department, made this case in an April letter to governors and during testimony on May 25, 2016 to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Mull’s letter and testimony repeated numerous false and misleading Obama administration claims about the JCPOA.  Below is a rebuttal to Mr. Mull’s testimony to the House hearing.

  • Mull’s claim that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA is misleading since the Iran nuclear deal represents a very low bar set for Iran to conclude a nuclear deal on its terms. Many of the claims made by the Obama administration about the deal are intended to evade how little Iran actually gave up in the agreement and how it allows Iran to continue to engage in activities with nuclear weapons applications.
  • For example, the JCPOA excludes Iranian missile tests and a requirement that Iran resolve outstanding questions about weapons-related nuclear activities (possible military dimensions).
  • As a result, Iran tested missiles last fall and this spring without violating the Iran deal. Written on the sides of some of these missiles were the words “Israel must be wiped off the Earth.”
  • In addition, as part of a secret side deal to the JCPOA between Iran and the IAEA, the IAEA conducted a short investigation of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program last fall that, according to a report by the influential Institute for Science and International Security, Iran refused to fully cooperate with. Although the IAEA issued a report in early December 2015 indicating Iran’s lack of full cooperation and misleading answers, the United States voted with other IAEA members on December 15, 2015 to close the IAEA’s file on Iran’s military-related nuclear activities.
  • Mull claims that Iran “disabled and removed” two-thirds of its uranium enrichment centrifuges. This is misleading.  Iran was only enriching with 10,000 of its 19,000 centrifuges before the nuclear agreement.  6,104 remain in place under the agreement; 5,060 of these will be used to continue to enrich uranium.  The rest of the centrifuges (many of which were inoperative) have not been “disabled” – they have been disassembled and put in storage.
  • Mull claims Iran has sent 98% of its enriched uranium stockpile out of the country. This is impossible to verify because the IAEA in January 2016 ceased issuing detailed reports on Iran’s nuclear program.  This appears to be another secret side deal to dumb-down these reports at the demand of Iran.  (See my March 9 NRO article In Yet Another Secret Side Deal, Iran’s Nuclear Violations Won’t Be Publicly Disclosed for more details) The IAEA is not saying exactly how many kilograms of low enriched uranium Iran has sent to Russia and whether it verified these shipments.  The IAEA also is no longer reporting how many kilograms of uranium Iran is enriching every month.
  • Mull did not mention that the IAEA is not saying anything about Iran’s testing and development of advanced uranium centrifuges in its Iran reports, an issue it had been reporting on until the end of 2015. Iranian centrifuge R&D is a major flaw in the JCPOA and is a principle reason why Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) opposed this agreement.  Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges will enable it to make more enriched uranium faster, reducing the time for Iran to make nuclear weapons fuel.
  • Mull claims Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor has been permanently disabled and will be redesigned so it will not produce plutonium. This is misleading and partially false.  While it is true this reactor has been made inoperable, China will help Iran rebuild it.  Although the redesigned reactor will produce significantly less plutonium by operating it at a lower power level and changing the way it is fueled, Iran can change the fueling of this reactor is fueled in the future so it produces significant amounts of plutonium.  Moreover, this arrangement will give Iran expertise in the construction and operation of heavy-water reactors.
  • Mull’s statements about “rigorous, intrusive, and unprecedented transparency measures” are misleading since these only apply to declared nuclear sites and Iran’s declared nuclear supply chain. Iranian officials have placed military facilities — where Iran is likely to conduct nuclear weapons work — off-limits to IAEA inspectors.  Mull claims military sites are not off-limits, but since Iran has threatened to withdraw from the JCPOA if sanctions are re-imposed because of its non-compliance with the agreement, it is unlikely the Obama administration will press Iran for IAEA access to a disputed nuclear site before Mr. Obama leaves office.
  • I also note that Iran continues to refuse to allow IAEA inspectors to inspect the Parchin military base where Iran allegedly conducted explosive testing related to the development of nuclear warheads. Iranians inspected this site on behalf of the IAEA last September as part of a secret side deal with the IAEA as part of its investigation of Iran’s past nuclear weapons related activities.  The IAEA reported in a December report on this issue that Iran tried to use these Iranian-conducted inspections to deceive the IAEA and provided it with explanations of what occurred there that the IAEA determined were false.  See my December 2, 2015 NRO article Iran Was Researching Nukes in 2009 for more details.
  • Mull also did not explain how UN missile sanctions against Iran were weakened due to the JCPOA. In exchange Iran meeting the low-bar requirements of the JCPOA – which excluded missiles, allowed Iran to continue to enriched uranium, allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges and did not require Iran to resolve questions about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program – nuclear related UN sanctions were lifted and  UN missile sanctions were significantly weakened. See this US News and World Report article for more information.
  • Part of Mull’s testimony responds to criticism that the Obama administration violated promises it made to Congress last summer that terrorism-related sanctions that barred Iran access to US financial markets and dollarized financial transactions would not be lifted. After Iran demanded this earlier this year, it looked like the Obama administration would lift these sanctions.  It appears the Obama administration backed down on this action due to congressional pressure but may have given Iran “back door” access to US financial markets through offshore accounts.  See this link for more details: http://freebeacon.com/national-security/obama-commit-iran-us-dollar/
  • In response to Mull’s plea that state governments not pass legislation sanctioning Iran, I would stress that the above and other aspects of the Iran deal add up to an agreement that is a fraud which will do little to stop the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. In its desperation to get a legacy nuclear agreement with Iran for President Obama, Obama officials were prepared to make any concession they had to Tehran.  This is why Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is calling for a formal congressional investigation into whether the Obama administration misled the US Congress about the Iran deal and the concessions it made to get it to stop Congress from voting to disapprove the deal.  See this article for details on Pompeo’s efforts.
  • We also know from a May 5, 2016 New York Times profile of NSC staffer Ben Rhodes that the White House conducted a massive campaign of deception to sell the nuclear agreement with Iran that included a false narrative about a new moderate Iranian government and an operation to manipulate the news media.
  • One final note: the Obama administration has tried to defend the JCPOA by claiming it would improve US-Iran relations and make Iran a partner for peace in the Middle East. Given the many examples of how Iran’s behavior has worsened since the JCPOA was announced last July, including ballistic-missile tests, continued sponsorship of terrorism, intervention in Syria and Yemen, firing rockets near U.S. naval vessels, briefly taking U.S. sailors prisoner in January 2016, and recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz to U.S. shipping, it is clear this has not happened.
  • The bottom line: Mull and the Obama administration have a lot to answer for. He can’t credibly take a victory lap for this fraudulent deal that excludes crucial elements such as Iranian missile tests. Pompeo and others believe Congress was misled about the JCPOA.  Rhodes admitted to the New York Times that the administration sold the JCPOA through lies and deception.

State governments therefore must ignore demands by the Obama administration to drop state-level sanctions against Iran and instead accelerate their efforts to pass punitive sanctions against Iran due to its continued sponsorship of terror, threats against Israel, threats to US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, support to the Assad regime, support to Shiite rebels in Yemen, ballistic missile tests and other examples of belligerence.

About Fred Fleitz

Fred Fleitz is President and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. He recently served as a Deputy Assistant to President Trump and Chief of Staff to National Security Adviser John Bolton. He previously worked in national security positions for 25 years with CIA, DIA, the Department of State and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Read his complete bio here. Follow Fleitz on Twitter @fredfleitz.