OBAMA AND IRAN
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Iran Is Not “a Serious Threat”
- During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said: “Think about it: Iran, Cuba, Venezuela. These countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us.” Obama seemed unaware that a nuclear Iran would permanently shift the Middle East’s balance of power, spark an arms race in the region, and pose an existential threat not only to Israel but also to the United States.
Pledge to Negotiate with Iran
- In a January 2009 interview on the Dubai-based television network Al Arabiya, President Obama pledged to negotiate with Iran regarding that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had repeatedly declared that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” and that “the annihilation of the Zionist regime” was imminent.) On the same day as Obama’s interview was aired, an Iranian government spokesman characterized the notion that the Nazis had conducted a Holocaust seven decades earlier as “a big lie.”
- Obama invited Iran to “unclench its fist” and meet him at the negotiating table for “unconditional talks.” While noting that “Iran has acted in ways not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region,” he suggested that Tehran’s support for terrorists, though “not helpful,” was largely a problem of the past. This was untrue; Iran was still actively supplying weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, which remained firmly committed to the destruction of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.
- Iran nonetheless continued to pursue its unrestrained pursuit of nuclear weaponry. In response, President Obama imposed a set of economic sanctions that exempted all 20 of Iran's major trading partners from compliance.
Obama Addresses the Iran Issue in His Cairo Speech of June 4, 2009
"The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
"This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
"It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.
"I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal."
Details of the Obama Administration's Dealings with Iran, see the John Kerry Profile
- For details of the Obama Administration's dealings with Iran, particularly as regards negotiations about Iran's nuclear program, see also the John Kerry profile.
Secret Negotiations with Iran: Israel Is Outraged
In early November 2013, it was reported that the Obama administration had begun softening U.S. sanctions against Iran (vis a vis the latter's nuclear program) soon after the election, five months earlier, of that country's new president, Hassan Rouhani. This move set the stage, in turn, for the United States -- in conjunction with Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany -- to propose a short-term “first step agreement” with Iran at a November meeting in Geneva. The deal, which sought to freeze Iran’s nuclear program for approximately six months in order to create an opportunity for a more comprehensive and lasting bargain to be negotiated, included four key provisions, as outlined by the London Telegraph:
1) Iran would stop enriching uranium to the 20 per cent level that is close to weapons-grade – and turn its existing stockpile of this material into harmless oxide.
2) Iran would continue enrichment to the 3.5 per cent purity needed for nuclear power stations – but agree to limit the number of centrifuges being used for this purpose. There would, however, be no requirement to remove or disable any other centrifuges.
3) Iran would agree not to activate its plutonium reactor at Arak, which could provide another route to a nuclear weapons capability, during the six-month period. Iran may, however, continue working on the facility.
4) Iran would agree not to use its more advanced IR-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium between three and five times faster than the older model.
“In return,” said the Telegraph, “America would ease economic sanctions, possibly by releasing some Iranian foreign exchange reserves currently held in frozen accounts. In addition, some restrictions affecting Iran’s petrochemical, motor and precious metals industries could be relaxed.”
On November 8, 2013, the Israeli government, which the Obama administration had not informed of the negotiations, was stunned to learn of the seemingly imminent deal with Iran. According to The DailyBeast.com, news of the agreement led to the canceling of a joint media appearance between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “and prompted, instead, a bitter exchange between them before Kerry headed off to the Swiss city” to take part in the multinational talks.
One Israeli official was quoted saying that “the Americans capitulated to Iranian maneuvering.... Kerry wants a deal at all costs and the Iranians are leading the Americans by the nose.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, outraged at the prospect of this agreement with Iran, said: "I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva, as well they should be, because they got everything, and paid nothing, they wanted. They wanted relief from sanctions after years of a gruelling sanctions regime.” Added Netanyhau:
“The deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge. But the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years. Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and it pays nothing. And this is when Iran is under severe pressure. I urge Secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal. But this is a bad deal--a very, very bad deal. It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community."
"Israel utterly rejects it [the deal]," Netanyahu emphasized, "and what I am saying is shared by many in the region, whether or not they express that publicly.... Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people."
When Iran ultimately broke off negotiations on November 10, Netanyahu’s office issued a press release stating:
"Over the weekend I spoke with President Obama, with [Russian] President Putin, with [French] President Hollande, with [German] Chancellor Merkel and with British Prime Minister Cameron. I told them that according to all the information reaching Israel, the impending deal is bad and dangerous.
"It is not only dangerous to us; it is dangerous for them, too. It is dangerous for the peace of the world because in one fell swoop it lowers the pressure of the sanctions which took years to build, and conversely, Iran essentially preserves its nuclear uranium enrichment capabilities as well as the ability to advance on the plutonium enrichment path....
"I asked all the leaders what the rush is. And I suggested that they wait…. It is good that this was ultimately the choice that was made but I am not fooling myself—there is a strong desire to strike a deal…."
A number of days later, the U.S.—along with Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany—resumed negotiations with Iran. And on November 24th an interim agreement was reached, wherein Iran agreed that for six months it would:
- place a 5% ceiling on its uranium enrichment;
- reduce to 7,000 kilograms the amount of already-enriched uranium in its possession;
- allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct daily inspections of acknowledged enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordo; and
- suspend all work on its unfinished plutonium plant in Arak.
In exchange, the U.S. and its bargaining partners assured Iran that for the same six-month period:
- the United Nations and the European Union would impose no new sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program, and would cease efforts to further limit Iran’s oil exports;
- sanctions on insurance services for transport to Iran would be suspended, along with additional restrictions on the sale of gold and other valuables;
- a new “financial channel” would permit Iran to access banking services for “humanitarian commerce”—e.g., the import of food, pharmaceuticals, and medical treatments;
- some U.S. sanctions would be suspended; and
- Washington would allow the sale of some spare parts for Iran’s Boeing transport aircraft.
But the agreement gave Russia, a staunch ally of Iran, the right to oversee whatever future actions the Western powers might wish to take regarding Iran. Moreover, the deal kept sensitive sites such as the Iranian military base at Parchin, where researchers were busy weaponizing enriched uranium, off-limits to inpectors. And the same immunity from inspections would apply also to any new nuclear sites that Iran might open up subsequent to the signing of the accord.
By John Kerry's telling: “The deal is the beginning and first step. It leads us into the negotiation—so that we guarantee that while we are negotiating for the dismantling, while we are negotiating for the tougher positions, they will not grow their program and their capacity to threaten Israel. Israel will actually gain a larger breathing space in terms of the breakout capacity of Iran. It’s just clear.”
President Obama was equally optimistic, saying the agreement would ensure that “Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon”—an assertion that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described as “a funny joke.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deeply disturbed by news of the agreement with Iran. The day after the deal had been finalized, he said: “What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake. Today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
Netanyahu lamented that for the first time, the world's leading powers had agreed to permit uranium enrichment in Iran while suspending effective sanctions -- in exchange for merely “cosmetic Iranian concessions that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks.” Declaring, further, that “Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu emphasized that his country “has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” and thus “is not bound by this agreement.” “It becomes [increasingly] clear,” he added, “how bad and dangerous the agreement is to the world, the region and Israel.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who likewise condemned the accord, said: “We are in a new reality that is different from yesterday, and it requires us to reevaluate the situation with good judgment, responsibly and with determination. We will do what we must and will not hesitate for a minute—and there is no need to add another word.”
Yet another Israeli official stated that his government was particulary upset by the fact that the U.S. had not even informed Israel that the negotiations were taking place.
Obama Says That Iran's Supreme Leader Claims to Be Opposed to Nuclear Weapons for His Country
In a February 9, 2015 joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama said he believed that a nuclear-weapons agreement with Iran was possible for the following reasons:
"The issues now are sufficiently narrowed and sufficiently clarified where we’re at a point where they need to make a decision. We are presenting to them in a unified fashion, the P5+1 supported by a coalition of countries around the world are presenting to them a deal that allows them to have peaceful nuclear power but gives us the absolute assurance that is verifiable that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And if in fact what they claim is true, which is they have no aspiration to get a nuclear weapon, that in fact, according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal. They should be able to get to yes. But we don’t know if that’s going to happen."
Obama Objects to Congressional Republicans' Open Letter to Iranian Leaders
In early March 2015, 47 of the 54 Republican U.S. senators signed an open letter to Iranian leaders which was posted on the website of Republican Senator Tom Cotton, pointing out that if Iran reached a nuclear agreement with President Obama that was not approved by Congress, it would not be binding on the next president. Obama had already made it clear that he had no intention of submitting any agreement to Congress for approval.
Angered by the letter, Obama said of the 47 signatories: “I'm embarrassed for them,” adding: “For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah, who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is, 'Don't deal with our president because you can't trust him to follow through on an agreement,' that's close to unprecedented." Obama also accused the signatories of wanting “to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran.”
Obama Sends "Happy New Year" Video to the People of Iran
On March 19, 2015, Obama sent a video message “directly to the people and leaders of Iran,” in recognition of the Iranian New Year, known as Nowruz. He expressed optimism: “For decades, our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear. Now it is early spring. We have a chance—a chance—to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come. Now it is up to all of us, Iranians and Americans, to seize this moment and the possibilities that can bloom in this new season.”
Iran's Supreme Leader Calls for "Death to America"
Two days later, on March 21, Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei called for “Death to America” and vowed that his country would not capitulate to Western pressure. When the crowd he was addressing began to shout, “Death to America,” Khamenei responded: “Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure.” “They insist on putting pressure on our dear people’s economy,” he said in reference to economic sanctions aimed at derailing Iran’s nuclear program. “What is their goal? Their goal is to put the people against the system. The politics of America is to create insecurity.” Emphasizing that the ongoing nuclear talks would not in any way lead to a thaw in relations with the U.S., Khamenei said: “Negotiations with America are solely on the nuclear issue and nothing else. Everyone has to know that.”
367 Congressmen Express Grave Concern About a Possible Obama Deal with Iran
On March 23, 2015, fully 367 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent President Obama a letter expressing great concern about the ongoing negotiations with Iran regarding that nation's nuclear program. Said the letter:
“As the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran nears, we write to you to underscore the grave and urgent issues that have arisen in these negotiations.... A final comprehensive nuclear agreement must constrain Iran’s nuclear infrastructure so that Iran has no pathway to a bomb, and that agreement must be long-lasting....
“International inspectors reveal that Iran still has not revealed its past bomb work, despite its international obligations to do so.... Last fall, over 350 members of the House wrote to the Secretary of State expressing deep concerns about this lack of cooperation.... Iran's record of clandestine activity and intransigence prevents any trust in Iran. Inded, the top Sate Department negotiator has told Congress that, 'deception is part of [Iran]s] DNA.' Even during the period of negotiations, Iran has illicitly procured nuclear technology....
“The United States has had a longstanding interest in preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. Over the last twenty years, Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation imposing sanctions on Iran to prevent that outcome, ultimately forcing Iran into negotiations. Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation.
“In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief....”
Obama Administration Downplays and Rationalizes Khamenei's "Death to America" Proclamation
On March 23, 2015, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf had the following exchange with CNN's Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: The Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, all of a sudden once again today, is declaring death to America. This is the guy who's in charge. He has to approve a [nuclear] deal. But now he's telling a crowd over there "Death to America! Death to America!" A lot of people are suggesting, members of Congress and others, how can we even negotiate with an Ayatollah who declares death to America?
HARF: Well, we've heard this kind of rhetoric for a long time. This certainly isn't new. What we're focused on is what's happening in the negotiating room.
BLITZER: So the words have no meaning when he says, "Death to America," you don't take that seriously?
HARF: It's not that they have no meaning. Obviously it's incredibly offensive, I would say, to all of us here. We've seen this kind of rhetoric before.
(Harf went on to say that Khamenei had made those statements for domestic consumption, thus they were not of great concern.)
Obama Removes Iran and Hezbollah (Which Is Supported by Iran) from America's Terrorist Threat List
In an effort to justify the completion of a negotiated settlement with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, the Obama Administration suddenly removed both Iran and Hezbollah (which is supported and funded by Iran) from America's Terrorist Threat List. As the Times of Israel reported:
"An annual report delivered recently to the US Senate by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, removed Iran and Hezbollah from its list of terrorism threats, after years in which they featured in similar reports. In describing Iran’s regional role, the report noted the Islamic Republic’s 'intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia,' but cautioned that 'Iranian leaders—particularly within the security services—are pursuing policies with negative secondary consequences for regional stability and potentially for Iran.'"
The only time the report mentioned Hezbollah was when describing it as a victim of attacks"
"Lebanon faces growing threats from terrorist groups, including the al-Nusrah Front and ISIL. Sunni extremists are trying to establish networks in Lebanon and have increased attacks against Lebanese army and Hizballah positions along the Lebanese-Syrian border. Lebanon potentially faces a protracted conflict in northern and eastern parts of the country from extremist groups seeking to seize Lebanese territory, supplies, and hostages."
Iranian General Says Israel's Destruction Is "Non-negotiable"
On March 31, 2015, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi—the commander of the Basij militia of Iran's Revolutionary Guards—said in an interview that "erasing Israel off the map" was "nonnegotiable." On a previous occasion, in 2014, Naqdi had stated that Iran was arming West Bank Palestinians to help them contribute to Israel's ultimate annihilation. "Arming the West Bank has started and weapons will be supplied to the people of this region," said Naqdi.
Reports of U.S. Negotiators Caving to Iranian Demands
On March 26, 2015, the Washington Free Beacon reported: “The Obama administration is giving in to Iranian demands about the scope of its nuclear program as negotiators work to finalize a framework agreement in the coming days, according to sources familiar with the administration’s position in the negotiations.” Additional excerpts of the report stated:
“U.S. negotiators are said to have given up ground on demands that Iran be forced to disclose the full range of its nuclear activities at the outset of a nuclear deal, a concession experts say would gut the verification the Obama administration has vowed would stand as the crux of a deal with Iran. Until recently, the Obama administration had maintained that it would guarantee oversight on Tehran’s program well into the future, and that it would take the necessary steps to ensure that oversight would be effective. The issue has now emerged as a key sticking point in the talks.
“Concern from sources familiar with U.S. concessions in the talks comes amid reports that Iran could be permitted to continue running nuclear centrifuges at an underground site once suspected of housing illicit activities. This type of concession would allow Iran to continue work related to its nuclear weapons program, even under the eye of international inspectors. If Iran removes inspectors—as it has in the past—it would be left with a nuclear infrastructure immune from a strike by Western forces.
“'Once again, in the face of Iran’s intransigence, the U.S. is leading an effort to cave even more toward Iran—this time by whitewashing Tehran’s decades of lying about nuclear weapons work and current lack of cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy Agency],'” said one Western source briefed on the talks but who was not permitted to speak on record.
“With the White House pressing to finalize a deal, U.S. diplomats have moved further away from their demands that Iran be subjected to oversight over its nuclear infrastructure. 'Instead of ensuring that Iran answers all the outstanding questions about the past and current military dimensions of their nuclear work in order to obtain sanctions relief, the U.S. is now revising down what they need to do,' said the source. 'That is a terrible mistake—if we don’t have a baseline to judge their past work, we can’t tell if they are cheating in the future, and if they won’t answer now, before getting rewarded, why would they come clean in the future?'
“The United States is now willing to let Iran keep many of its most controversial military sites closed to inspectors until international sanctions pressure has been lifted, according to sources....
“A lesser emphasis is also being placed on Iran coming clean about its past efforts to build nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic continues to stall United Nations efforts to determine the extent of its past weapons work, according to the Wall Street Journal. By placing disclosure of Iran’s past military efforts on the back burner, the administration could harm the ability of outside inspectors to take full inventory of Iran’s nuclear know-how, according to sources familiar with the situation. It also could jeopardize efforts to keep Iran at least one year away from building a bomb, sources said.
“Nuclear negotiator Hamid Baeidinejad, the Director General for Political Affairs at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, confirmed that the Western powers had backed off from their previous positions in the nuclear negotiations with Tehran. 'The other side has withdrawn from its positions compared with the past, otherwise we wouldn’t have stood at this point and stage in the talks at all,'” Baeidinejad told reporters in Tehren.
“The Associated Press reported: 'The fate of a fortified underground bunker previously used for uranium enrichment appeared close to resolution. Officials [say] that the U.S. may allow Iran to run hundreds of centrifuges at the formerly secret facility in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.'”
Obama Has No Intention of Submitting the Nuclear Treaty with Iran to the Senate for Approval
There was considerable opposition in Congress to the deal that Obama was negotiating with Iran, as evidenced by (a) the March 2015, letter to Obama where 367 members of the U.S. House of Representatives expressed great concern about the ongoing negotiations; and (b) the March 2015 open letter to Iranian leaders that 47 Republican senators posted on the Internet, pointing out that if Iran reached a nuclear agreement with President Obama that was not approved by the Senate , it would not be binding on the next U.S. President.
The Senate is authorized by the U.S. Constitution to play a major role in the negotiation and ratification of treaties with foreign countries. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution says: “The President ... shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”
But Obama, from the very start of his negotiations with Iran, completely froze the Senate out of the process. He did this by claiming that his deal with Iran was not a treaty but a “sole executive agreement” that did not require Congressional approval. As journalist Conn Carroll notes: “Sole executive agreements have been used by presidents since the early 1800s, but the exact scope of this power has long been in question. The Supreme Court has allowed many such agreements to stand..., but the Court has always required at least some evidence that Congress at least acquiesced to those policies.... [N]ew arms deals have almost always been submitted to the Senate for approval.... Obama's nuclear arms deal with Iran would be an unprecedented expansion of this sole executive agreement power.”
On April 16, 2015, Obama continued to lay the rhetorical groundwork for such a deal by emphasizing that “this is not a formal treaty that is being envisioned,” but rather a “political agreement” between Iran and the leaders of the P5+1 countries.
Tentative Agreement Reached on Nuclear Deal
On April 2, 2015, Iran and the P5+1 reached a framework agreement on the nuclear issue. The deal was contingent on reaching an agreement by June 30, and it stipulated that all sanctions on Iran would remain in place until such a final deal was agreed to.
Updated Details of the P5+1 Nuclear Deal with Iran (Concessions Made to Iran)
On April 3, 2015, Fox News reported the following:
U.S. negotiators reportedly lowered the bar for their own goals during talks over Iran's nuclear program in response to resistance from the Tehran team. And, on the heels of a framework deal being announced in Switzerland, France's top diplomat on Friday admitted his country had initially held out for firmer terms.
The emerging reports indicate the U.S. team, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, gradually backed down over the course of the talks as Iran's delegation dug in. The Wall Street Journal, citing current and former U.S. representatives at the discussions, claimed the White House had initially hoped to persuade Iran to dismantle much of the country's nuclear infrastructure when talks started in late 2013, only to be told categorically that Iran would not do so.
The Journal reported that one Iranian diplomat called the nuclear program "our moon shot," comparing it to the U.S. space program in the 1960s as a symbol of national pride and advancement. From that point, the Journal reports, the U.S. accepted that any possible deal would likely enable Iran to continue to enrich some uranium to produce nuclear fuel and turned their focus to extending Iran's so-called "breakout time" or the minimum period that Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon.
The framework of an agreement was announced Thursday after marathon talks in Switzerland that stretched two days past their original deadline.
The plan, containing dozens of provisions, would effectively require Iran to wind down or suspend parts of its nuclear program that could be used for nuclear weapon development in exchange for sweeping sanctions relief. The preliminary agreement allows all sides -- the U.S., Iran and five other world powers -- to continue working toward a final deal by a June 30 deadline.
However, not all of the Western powers appeared completely pleased with the agreement. On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio that France had rejected an original of the deal outline as "not solid enough", and had held out for firmer conditions. However, Fabius told the radio station that the Iranian delegation had responded by threatening to walk out of the talks.
The French delegation was considered by observers to be one of the hardest bargainers of the P5+1 countries, a group which also included the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and China. Fabius told Europe 1 that France wants a firm deal "to prevent other countries in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia from embarking on nuclear proliferation." ...
According to the Journal, U.S. scientists concluded that a year was enough time for the West to detect any move by Iran to build a nuclear bomb and execute a response. As part of keeping Iran at the table, the paper reports the U.S. made more concessions to Tehran. Some of which reportedly angered their negotiating partners, most notably the French.
Iran Boasts That the Deal Allows Iran to Continue Enriching Uranium and to Have Sanctions Removed Immediately; Iranian Foreign Minister Accuses Obama Administration of Lying about the Terms of the Deal
After the announcement that Iran and the P5+1 countries had reached an agreement, Iran's lead negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said that “none of those [agreed-upon] measures” would “include closing any of our facilities.” “We will continue enriching,” he added. “We will continue research and development.... Our heavy water reactor will be modernized and we will continue the Fordow facility. We will have centrifuges installed in Fordow, but not enriching.... [A]ll U.S. nuclear-related secondary sanctions will be terminated upon the finalization of an agreement]. This, I think, would be a major step forward.” Zarif also stated that Iran would be allowed to sell “enriched uranium” for a profit in the international marketplace.
Soon after the deal had been announced, the Obama administration issued a fact sheet outlining its provisions. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry told the press that that the sanctions relief would be implemented in a phased fashion—and only after Iran could demonstrate that it was not working toward the production of nuclear weapons. But the fact sheet and Kerry's remarks prompted Javad Zarif to accuse the Obama administration of misleading the American people and Congress. Lashing out on Twitter, he wrote: “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.... Iran/5+1 Statement: ‘US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.’ Is this gradual?” He then suggested a correction: “Iran/P5+1 Statement: ‘The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions’. How about this?”
Netanyahu Denounces "Bad Deal"
On April 1, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated:
"Yesterday an Iranian general brazenly declared, and I quote: ‘Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable’, but evidently giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb is negotiable. This is unconscionable. I agree with those who have said that Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes doesn’t square with Iran’s insistence on keeping underground nuclear facilities, advanced centrifuges and a heavy water reactor. Nor does it square with Iran’s insistence on developing ICBMs and its refusal to come clean with the IAEA on its past weaponization efforts. At the same time, Iran is accelerating its campaign of terror, subjugation and conquest throughout the region, most recently in Yemen.
"The concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world. Now is the time for the international community to insist on a better deal. A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior. Iran must stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world and stop its threats to annihilate Israel. That should be non-negotiable and that’s the deal that the world powers must insist upon."
Iranian Fact Sheet on the Nuclear Negotiations
On April 2, 2015, the Iranian news agency Fars published a Fact Sheet on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries. Below are some excerpts from that document, as translated from Persian into English by the Middle East Media Research Institute:
* “The comprehensive package of solutions has no legal validity, and provides only an interpretive guide for organizing and writing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. On this basis, the drafting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action based on decisions of these solutions will begin in the near future.”
* “In the framework of the solutions, none of the nuclear-related facilities and operations will be halted, stopped, or suspended, and Iran's nuclear activities at all of its nuclear facilities, including Natanz, Fordo, Isfahan, and Arak, will continue.”
* “These comprehensive solutions guarantee the continuation of the [uranium] enrichment program within the country, and based on this, Iran will be able, according to the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to continue its industrial production of nuclear fuel in order to assure fuel for its nuclear facilities.”
* “According to the solutions presented, the time period of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran's enrichment program will be 10 years. During this period, over 5,000 centrifuges at Natanz will continue to produce material enriched to a level of 3.67%. Centrifuges in addition to this number and the infrastructures related to them will be used to replace centrifuges damaged during this period, and will be collected and will be under IAEA oversight. Likewise, Iran will be able to allocate its stockpile of enriched material to the production of a nuclear fuel complex and/or [will be able] to export it to international markets in exchange for purchasing uranium.”
* “Based on the solution that Iran has presented, [Iran] will continue its research and development program for advanced centrifuges, and will continue the stages of initiating and completing the process of research and development of IR-4, IR-6, IR-5, and IR-8 generation centrifuges, during the 10-year period of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
* “In accordance with the existing solutions, the Arak heavy water research reactor will remain and will be redesigned, updated, and advanced. In the redesign of the reactor, the level of plutonium production will be decreased, [but] the efficiency of the Arak reactor will be increased significantly. The redesign of the Arak reactor will be undertaken within a designated period of time and in the form of a joint international project under Iranian direction, and immediately afterwards its construction will begin, and will be completed in the framework of a set timeframe. The production of fuel for the Arak reactor and the granting of international authorization for nuclear fuel production at the reactor, are among the issues [that will be undertaken with] international cooperation. On the other hand, the factory for the production of heavy water will continue to function as in the past.”
* “Based on the presented solutions, after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, all of the UN Security Council resolutions will be revoked forthwith, as will all of the multilateral economic and financial sanctions of the EU and the unilateral ones of the U.S. including financial, banking, insurance, investment, and all related services in various areas, including sanctions in the oil, gas, petrochemical, and automobile industries. Likewise, there will be an immediate and multilateral lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions against actual and legal individuals, against institutions, and against government and private organizations – including the Central Bank, other financial and banking institutions, SWIFT, Iran's shipping and aviation industries, [and] oil tanker companies. Also, the countries that are members of the (5+1) group undertake to refuse to impose new nuclear-related sanctions.”
Iran Sends Tens of Millions of Dollars to Help Rearm Hamas
In April 2015 – amid Iran's nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and the other P5+1 countries – the UK Telegraph reported that Iran was transferring tens of millions of dollars to Hamas's “military wing” Izzadin Kassam to help it recover from Operation Protective Edge, Israel's 2014 military incursion that degraded much of Hamas's terror infrastructure in Gaza. The Telegraph said the funds would be used to “rebuild the network of tunnels in Gaza destroyed by Israel’s invasion last summer,” and to replace the missiles fired at or destroyed by Israel during the operation.
Top Iranian Commander Says “Erasing Israel off the Map” Is “Non-Negotiable”
At the end of March 2015 – as the P5+1 countries prepared to issue a general statement agreeing to continue nuclear negotiations with the ultimate goal of reaching a comprehensive accord by the end of June – Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said that “erasing Israel off the map” was “non-negotiable.” The previous year, Naqdi had said: “Arming the West Bank has started and weapons will be supplied to the people of this region.... The Zionists should know that the next war won’t be confined to the present borders and the Mujahedeen will push them back.”
Obama Says Iran Deal Will Not Include Requirement That Iran Recognize Israel's Right to Exist
In an April 6, 2015 interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Obama shut down the idea of requiring, as part of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's recognition of Israel and its right to exist. Below is an excerpt of his comments:
“So there’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.... We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want [it] to have nuclear weapons. If suddenly Iran transformed itself into Germany or Sweden or France, there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure. So, you know, the key here is not to somehow expect that Iran changes — although it is something that may end up being an important byproduct of this deal — but rather it is to make sure that we have a verifiable deal that takes off the table what would be a game-changer for them if in fact they possess nuclear weapons”
Earlier in the interview, Obama was asked how the deal with Iran could be a good one if Iran was not “capable of changing its ways.” Obama answered by essentially arguing that whether or not Iran was trustworthy did not matter: “Let me flip the question, Steve: I would argue that this deal is the right thing to do for the United States, for our allies in the region and for world peace regardless of the nature of the Iranian regime. So — so I would actually argue you're right. People are focused on that. But this is a good deal if you think Iran's open to change; it's also a good deal if you think that Iran is implacably opposed to the United States and the West and our values ...”
On April 8, 2015, White House spokesman Josh Earnest echoed Obama, saying: “Specifically incorporated into the Corker legislation [a proposal by Republican Senator Bob Corker stating that Iran must renounce terrorism as a condition of any deal] is a provision that essentially makes the agreement contingent upon Iran renouncing terrorism. Now, that’s an unrealistic suggestion because we’ve been very clear that this agreement is focused on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that it is not going to succeed in resolving the long list of concerns that we have with Iran’s behavior.... We want to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and inserting a provision like this, that essentially is intended to undermine the agreement in the first place, is why we so strongly oppose – or at least have significant concerns and oppose – the current form of the Corker bill.”
Six days later, Earnest reiterated: “[W]e’ve had I think what I could describe as four specific concerns with the way the Corker legislation was introduced. The one that I have talked the most frequently about in public is the requirement for the administration to certify that Iran has not backed terrorism against Americans. And this idea that we could essentially get Iran to renounce terrorism is unrealistic. We’ve acknowledged on the front end that this nuclear agreement -- if we can reach one -- will not in any way resolve all of the concerns that we have with Iran’s behavior and, in fact, one of the reasons we’re trying to reach an agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is because we know they are a backer of terror activities around the globe.”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf likewise dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pleas that the Iran nuclear agreement include “a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel's right to exist.” “This is an agreement that is only about the nuclear issue … [and] doesn't deal with any other issues, nor should it,” said Harf.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The American position is clear, Israel is a Jewish state. However, we do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement.”
Obama Inadvertently Acknowledges Major Weaknesses in the Iran Deal
In Obama's April 6, 2015 interview with National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep, where the president sought to make a case for the Iran “framework,” he actually revealed several things that made the deal a very bad one for the U.S., Israel, and the world at large. Breitbart.com reported:
1. Iran could have a nuclear weapon after 12 years: Obama volunteers to NPR’s Steve Inskeep “that in year 13, 14, 15, they [Iran] have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” Obama argues that would be better than the current breakout time of 2-3 months and that the world would at least know more about the Iranian nuclear program when it did detonate a nuclear weapon.
2. Obama admits the Iranian regime is not going to change:At the outset, Obama says that “this is a good deal if you think Iran’s open to change.” Later, however, in dismissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s demand that a final deal include Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist, Obama says that would preclude a deal “unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms.” By his own standard–Iranian openness to change–the deal is dead on arrival.
3. Obama admits Iran will not stop supporting terrorism: Obama admits that sanctions relief will allow Iran to keep funding terror throughout the region and the world. However, he says, Iran does that anyway, even under significant financial pressure. Amazingly, Obama actually offers the example of North Korea as a country that causes mischief despite being isolated. North Korea is the best example of why a nuclear deal like the Iran framework has no chance of success.
4. Russia could stop the UN Security Council from inspecting Iran: The fact that Russia holds a veto on the UN Security Council means that it can effectively protect Iran from international inspections. Obama says he is “trying to design” a system in which nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) do not have to report to the Security Council. The problem? Russia is one of the P5+1 powers. (Obama admits the problem is not yet “resolved.”)
5. There is no way to resolve differences over sanctions: Iran only came to the negotiating table, Obama admits, because of international sanctions (which he opposed, but for which he now takes credit). Yet Iran claims the deal will include an immediate end to sanctions, while Obama says that sanctions will only be lifted later. And Obama acknowledges that he needs Russia’s support to “snap-back” sanctions if Iran violates the deal–a problem for reasons described above.
Russia Announces Shipment of Powerful Missile Air-Defense System to Iran
On April 13, 2015, the Kremlin announced that it would soon sell (for $800 million) and deliver to Iran a powerful S-300 surface-to-air missile system that would make it virtually impossible for Israel or the U.S. to carry out airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities if necessary in the future. A senior U.S. Marine Corps aviator said that the delivery of the S-300 system to Iran would be “a complete game changer for all fourth-gen aircraft [like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18]. That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it.” A senior U.S. Air Force commander said: “[It] essentially makes Iran attack-proof by Israel and almost any country without fifth-gen [stealth fighter] capabilities. In other words, Iran, with the S-300, can continue to do what they want once those systems are in place without fear of attack from anyone save the U.S. Brilliant chess move…”
TheDailyBeast.com noted, “The Kremin’s decision now sends a signal to Tehran that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table are done—even before a final nuclear agreement is signed.” And Heather Conley, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: “Clearly, this is the sanctions regime already starting to crack and fall apart in anticipation there will be an agreement [on nuclear issues with Iran] on June 30. This is the first major signal that regime is coming to an end.”
On April 17, President Obama downplayed the significance of Russia's deal with Iran. Said Obama: “With respect to the Russian sales, I will tell you this is actually a sale that was slated to happen in 2009, when I first met with then-Prime Minister Putin. They actually stopped the sale, paused or suspended the sale, at our request. And, I’m frankly, surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons. When I say I’m not surprised — given some of the deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the United States, and the fact that their economy’s under strain and this was a substantial sale.”
Netanyahu Furious Over Russian Sale of Anti-Aircraft System to Iran
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily protested Russia's planned sale of the advanced anti-aircraft systems to Iran, and he phoned Vladimir Putin in an effort to persuade him to reconsider, but was rebuffed.
Iran Parades New Weapons Systems, Declares “Death to Israel”
On April 18, 2015, Iran celebrated Army Day with a military parade featuring the display of new weapons systems as well as a massive banner reading “Death to Israel.” Cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” were repeated throughout the festivities. During Iran national television's airing of the parade, the announcer stated: “If Israel makes a mistake, those in Tel Aviv and Haifa will not sleep at night, not one person.”
Senate Surrenders Its Constitutional Treaty Clause Power
In April 2015, Senate Democrats led by Sen. Ben Cardin, in union with Senate Republicans led by Sen. Bob Corker, passed the Corker-Cardin bill in which the majority-Republican Senate meekly surrendered its constitutionally authorized power to ratify a treaty. The Treaty Clause of the Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate to affirmatively approve of any treaty in order for it to take effect; in this case, then, two-thirds of the Senate would have had to approve the deal with Iran in order for the sanctions against Iran to be lifted. But instead, because of the Corker-Cardin bill, Obama was free to negotiate any deal he wanted, and Congress would simply vote up or down on it. Moreover, Congress would now need to muster two-thirds of its members to oppose the deal in both its upper and lower chambers – 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House. Without those two-thirds supermajorities, Congress would be unable to override an Obama veto of Congress's rejection of the deal. The Corker-Cardin bill further stipulated that Congress would have 60 days to put together those two-thirds supermajorities in opposition to the deal -- but that would clearly be impossible, given the Democrats' largely uniform support for Obama administration policies.
Iran Captures U.S.-Flagged Ship
On April 24, 2015, the U.S.-flagged ship called the Maersk Kensingtona was intercepted by an Iran Revolutionary Guard naval patrol in the Strait of Hormuz. According to a senior U.S. military official, "The Iranians encircled the Kensington and followed the ship on its course for a period of time before withdrawing and breaking away." Four days after that incident, Revolutionary Guard patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz fired shots at the Marshall Islands-flagged M/V Maersk Tigris and then intercepted the vessel.
Iran's Active Nuclear Procurement Network Linked to Two Blacklisted Firms
On April 30, 2015, the Reuters news agency reported:
“Britain has informed a United Nations sanctions panel of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel seen by Reuters. The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal due by June 30 in which it would agree to restrict sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief....
“The UK government informed the Panel on 20 April 2015 that it 'is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network which has been associated with Iran's Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA) and Kalay Electric Company (KEC),' the Panel of Experts said in its annual report. The panel monitors Iran's compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime. KEC is under U.N. Security Council sanctions while TESA is under U.S. and European Union sanctions due to their suspected links to banned Iranian nuclear activities....
“U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the report's significance. She acknowledged that Iranian sanctions violations have continued, and noted that Washington has repeatedly blacklisted Iranian entities due to illicit procurement while negotiations with Tehran were underway.”
Iranian Major General Threatens to Annihilate Israel
In May 2015, Iranian Major General Rahim Safavi threatened to use violence against Israel, saying that “the Zionists and the U.S. are aware of the power of Iran and Hezbollah, and they know that over 80,000 [Iranian] missiles are ready to rain down on Tel Aviv and Haifa.”
Kerry Says That if Iran Fails to Account for Its Past Nuclear Activities, a Deal Could Still Be Made
Ever since it reached an interim accord with Iran in November 2013, the Obama administration had consistently claimed that a comprehensive solution "would include resolution of questions concerning the possible military dimension of Iran's nuclear program." This would require Tehran to provide a complete accounting of all its previous work on nuclear warheads, delivery systems, and detonators. But in early June 2015, administration officials told The Associated Press Iran would not provide that information by the June 30 deadline for an agreement. Moreover, they said, the U.S. and its partners were much more concerned with Iran fulfilling its present and future commitments. Said John Kerry on June 16, 2015: "The possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussions in that we're not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to certain military activities they were engaged in. What we're concerned about is going forward. It's critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped and that we can account for that in a legitimate way."
Offering Light-Water Nuclear Reactors to Iran
On June 24, 2015, the Associated Press reported that according to a confidential document, “Western powers are offering Tehran high-tech [light water] reactors under a proposed nuclear agreement.” (It is much more difficult to produce nuclear weapons with light-water reactors, as opposed to heavy-water reactors.) “[B]ut a defiant speech by Iran's supreme leader less than a week before a negotiating deadline,” added AP, “casts doubt on whether he's willing to make the necessary concessions to seal a deal.... Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday rejected a long-term freeze on nuclear research and supported the idea of barring international inspectors from military sites. Khamenei, in comments broadcast on Iranian state television, also said Iran would sign a final deal only if all economic sanctions on the country were first lifted. The preliminary deal calls for sanctions to be lifted gradually after an agreement is finalized.”
Dismissing Khamenei's remarks as words that were intended mainly for “domestic political consumption,” Secretary of State John Kerry said that if Iran were to backtrack on commitments it had made in an April outline, there would be no agreement.
U.S. Agrees to Allow Iran to Keep More Than 5,000 Centrifuges
When the nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran failed to yield an agreement by the June 30, 2015 deadline, the negotiators announced that they would extend the discussions until at least July 7. Some new ground had been broken, however. As the Washington Free Beacon reported on June 30: “Iran will be permitted to operate more than 5,000 nuclear centrifuges [which are used to enrich uranium to a level needed for a weapon] under any final deal secured in the coming days, according to Western sources who fear that the Islamic Republic could use such technology to continue building a nuclear weapon. Iranian leaders have demanded in recent days that the United States agree to allow the country to maintain its core nuclear structure, including centrifuges and other nuclear research efforts. Such a large number of centrifuges could enable Tehran to enrich enough uranium for several bombs, experts say. Countries such as Pakistan and North Korea have successfully achieved nuclear weapons status with far fewer centrifuges.”
- Said Chris Griffin, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative: “Iran is poised to walk away from Vienna with more centrifuges than North Korea has ever been known to possess and a U.S.-endorsed R&D program to improve their efficiency. For talks that began with U.S. officials insisting that Iran dismantle its enrichment capability, that outcome will mark a resounding collapse.”
- “It is alarming to see how in dealing with this regime in Tehran,” said one source present in Vienna for the talks, “our negotiators have learned so little from past errors, where leaving nuclear infrastructure, like thousands of centrifuges, in the hands of lying, terror-sponsoring, human rights abusing, ballistic missile shooting mad-men resulted in nuclear weapons and proliferation, just as this bad deal will promote.”
- “If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need,” said former CIA deputy director Michael Morell. “If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”
- Another Western source present for the talks said that “this deal gives the Iranians more than enough centrifuges to go nuclear whenever they decide to, and hopes that they don’t.”
Iranian President Shouts His Hatred for Israel and His Support for Palestinians
On July 8, 2015 -- as the P5+1 negotiators continued to bargain with Iran on its nuclear program -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged his country to “shout its hatred for the Zionists” and support Palestinian efforts to seize territory from Israel. “People will tell the world on the Quds Day that the Muslim nations will never forget Palestine and occupation of this territory,” said Rouhani. Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Ministry released a statement asserting that “reaching this goal” (retaking Jerusalem from the Israelis) would require “confronting the Zionist regime’s aggression and expansionism and empowerment of Palestinians to resist against such measures, since resistance is the only way to restore their rights and free the Palestinian territories and the Holy Quds.” “Based on the guidelines of Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei),” added the statement, “the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that peace and tranquility will not be established in the Middle-East region but by full restoration of the oppressed Palestinian people’s rights, and the Palestinian nation will continue its legitimate and legal fight to restore its rights.”
Netanyahu Slams Obama & The West for Deal with Iran
On July 12, 2015, it was reported that the P5+1 nations and Iran would soon announce that they had reached an agreement in their nuclear talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was incensed. “We [Israel] will not pay the price for this,” he said in a statement that, according to a Breitbart.com report, "recall[ed] the manner in which the West had abandoned Czechoslovakia to the Nazi regime at the Munich negotiations in 1938." Added Breitbart: "Netanyahu also slammed the west for violating its own 'red lines' -- not just those at the start of negotiations, but those reached in the recent deal in Lausanne, Switzerland, such as a full Iranian compliance with international inspectors, which apparently has been dropped. He also noted that Iran had spent the past several days vowing to continue its efforts to destroy both the U.S. and Israel regardless of any deal." Netanyahu continued:
“The ruler of Iran, Khameini, is quoted as saying that Iran needs to plan to fight the US regardless of whether there is an agreement. The president of Iran, Rouhani, stands at the head of the march of hatred in the streets of Tehran, in which US and Israeli flags were burned, and in which many chanted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’ All of this is happening as the parade of concessions to Iran continues in Vienna, concessions even on issues that had been marked as red lines in the Lausanne package, which is a bad deal in its own right. It paves Iran’s way to many nuclear bombs and gives it hundreds of billions of dollars for its terrorism and conquest machine, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world.”
Nuclear Deal with Iran Is Finalized
On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 countries finalized a nuclear agreement with Iran. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced: “[T]oday major world powers recognized Iran’s nuclear program. Our dreams have come true.”
The key elements of the deal were the following:
- Iran will be permitted to keep more than 5,000 centrifuges, one-third of which will continue to spin in perpetuity. (Note: Pakistan created a nuclear bomb with just 3,000 centrifuges.)
- Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief. (In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice conceded the following: “Yes, it is real, it is possible, and, in fact, we should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.”)
- Russia and China will be permitted to supply Iran with weapons. Indeed, Russia has already agreed to sell Iran S-300 anti-missile rocket systems in exchange for 500,000 barrels of oil. As the International Business Times reports, “Russia and China will continue to make weapons deals with Iran under U.N. procedures.” According to political analyst Charles Krauthammer, “the net effect of this capitulation will be not only to endanger our Middle East allies now under threat from Iran and its proxies, but to endanger our own naval forces in the Persian Gulf.” “Imagine,” he added, “how Iran’s acquisition of the most advanced anti-ship missiles would threaten our control over the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, waterways we have kept open for international commerce for a half century.”
- Iran will have the discretion to block international inspectors from military installations and will be given 14 days’ notice for any request to visit any site. If Iran in fact denies access to any suspected site, that denial is then adjudicated by a committee on which Iran sits as a member. Next, the matter goes through several other bodies, on all of which Iran likewise sits. All told, the entire process may take up to 24 days.
- Only inspectors from countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran will be given access to Iranian nuclear sites. Thus there will be no American inspectors.
- The embargo on the sale of weapons to Iran will be officially lifted in 5 years, though in reality it has not been enforced at all in recent years under Obama.
- Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program will remain intact and unaffected; indeed it was never even discussed as an issue in the negotiations.
- The heavy water reactor in Arak and the underground nuclear facility in Fordo will remain open, violating the “red lines” that Obama has repeatedly cited.
- Iran will not be required to disclose information about its past nuclear research and development.
- The U.S. will provide technical assistance to help Iran develop its nuclear program, supposedly for peaceful domestic purposes.
- Sanctions will lifted on critical parts of Iran’s military, including a previously existing travel ban against Qasem Suleimani, leader of the terrorist Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Suleimani was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in the Iraq War.
- Iran will not be required to release American prisoners like Iranian-American Christian missionary Saeed Abedini, Iranian-American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, or U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati.
- The P5+1 nations "and possibly other states, as appropriate, are prepared to cooperate with Iran on the implementation of nuclear security guidelines and best practices." This would include: (a) "co-operation in the form of training courses and workshops to strengthen Iran’s ability to prevent, protect and respond to nuclear security threats to nuclear facilities and systems as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems"; and (b) "co-operation through training and workshops to strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage, as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems."
Israel Outraged by the Deal
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the deal as a “bad mistake of historic proportions” that would enable Iran to “continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region.” “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu added. “Many of the restrictions that were supposed to prevent it from getting there will be lifted.... Iran will get a jackpot, a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars, which will enable it to continue to pursue its aggression and terror.”
Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett said, “Today a terrorist nuclear superpower is born, and it will go down as one of the darkest days in world history.”
Israeli science minister Danny Danon said the Iran pact “is like providing a pyromaniac with matches.”
Obama Seeks to Freeze Congress out of the Iran Deal by Going Directly to the UN As Quickly As Possible
On July 16, 2015, Conservative Review reported:
"Now, Obama is violating even the pathetic terms of the Corker-Cardin bill by preventing Congress from even mustering the two-thirds opposition to the deal.... Foreign Policy magazine is reporting that UN Ambassador Samantha Power plans to submit a 14-page draft resolution to the UN Security Council as early as next week for approval of the Iran deal.
"You might be thinking, what happened to the 60-day period of congressional review, pursuant to the Corker Cardin bill, when Obama was to be restricted from lifting sanctions? Can’t Congress at least be afforded the 60 days to attempt to muster the 67 votes needed to disapprove of the deal?
"No chance. Obama is reneging on the very essence of the agreement and the bill he signed into law in May – an agreement that to begin with, violates the Senate’s treaty powers. By taking this deal straight to the Security Council for approval, although the implementation of the deal will not take effect until later this year, Congress would be in violation of international law by rejecting this treaty – if they miraculously mustered the votes in September.
"Secretary of State John Kerry blatantly and brazenly admitted that they have double-crossed Congress: 'If Congress were to veto the deal, Congress — the United States of America — would be in noncompliance with this agreement and contrary to all of the other countries in the world. I don’t think that’s going to happen.'"
On July 20, 2015, President Obama carried through his end-run around Congress by bringing the Iran nuclear deal to the United Nations Security Council for a vote, long before the completion of the 60-day period of congressional review called for in the Corker-Cardin bill. Obama did this even though Republicans and Democrats alike had been frantically iploring him to hold off on the vote. In that vote, the UN Security Council voted 15-0 to endorse the P5+1 deal and therefore to start rolling back sanctions against Iran.
Iranian Leaders Continue to Vow the Destruction of America and Israel
In a July 18, 2015 speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asked Allah to accept the prayers of Iranians for the destruction of America and Israel: "You heard 'Death to Israel,' 'Death to the U.S.' You could hear it. The whole nation was shaken by these slogans. So we ask Almighty God to accept these prayers by the people of Iran." Assuring his countrymen that the regime's opposition to the "arrogant" U.S. "won't change at all," Khamenei added: "The Islamic Republic of Iran will not give up support of its friends in the region — the oppressed people of Palestine, of Yemen, the Syrian and Iraqi governments, the oppressed people of Bahrain and sincere resistance fighters in Lebanon and Palestine… Our policy will not change with regards to the arrogant US government."
That same day, Khamenei used his Twitter account to write: "We welcome no war, nor do we initiate any war, but if any war happens, the one who will emerge loser will be the aggressive and criminal U.S." The tweet featured a graphic of President Obama shooting himself in the head.
That tweet echoed the message of a July 17 tweet that said: "US pres. said he could knock out Iran’s army. Of course we neither welcome, nor begin war, but in case of war, US will leave it disgraced."
Netanyahu Says Iran's Determination to Destroy America and Israel Remains Undiminished
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had some hard words for those celebrating the nuclear deal with Iran. Speaking to his cabinet ministers on July 19, 2015, he pointed to the recent speech given by Iran's Supreme Leader as proof that the "extraordinary concessions" given to Iran would not lead to changes in their destructive policies. Citing the defiant speech, Netanyahu told his cabinet that those hoping the deal would curtail Iran's aggressive policies had already received their "unequivocal answer."
"If someone thought that the extraordinary concessions to Iran would lead to a change in its policy, they received an unequivocal answer over the weekend in Iranian ruler Khamenei’s aggressive and contrary speech," said Netanyahu. "Today Iran is arming terrorist organizations with missiles – tomorrow they will have the ability to arm them and themselves with much deadlier weapons. The agreement that was signed paves Iran’s way to arm itself with nuclear weapons within a decade, if Iran decides to honor the agreement, and before then if it decides to violate it, as it is usually does. The alternative to this failed agreement, which we proposed repeatedly, is the continuation and strengthening of the sanctions on Iran and conditioning the lifting of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program, and the lifting of the pressure on Iran, only if it changes its policy."
Secret Side Deals with Iran, That Obama Kept Secret from Congress
On July 22, 2015, National Review Online reported the following:
"Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) issued a press release yesterday on a startling discovery they made during a July 17 meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency officials in Vienna: There are two secret side deals to the nuclear agreement with Iran that will not be shared with other nations, with Congress, or with the U.S. public.
"One of these side deals concerns inspection of the Parchin military base, where Iran reportedly has conducted explosive testing related to nuclear-warhead development. The Iranian government has refused to allow the IAEA to visit this site. Over the last several years, Iran has taken steps to clean up evidence of weapons-related activity at Parchin.
"The other secret side deal concerns how the IAEA and Iran will resolve outstanding issues on possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. In late 2013, Iran agreed to resolve IAEA questions about nuclear weapons-related work in twelve areas. Iran only answered questions in one of these areas and rejected the rest as based on forgeries and fabrications.
"Former Department of Energy official William Tobey explained in a July 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed [that] 'for inspections to be meaningful, Iran would have to completely and correctly declare all its relevant nuclear activities and procurement, past and present.'
According to the Cotton/Pompeo press release, there will be a secret, opaque procedure to verify Iran’s compliance with these side agreements. The press release says:
'According to the IAEA, the Iran agreement negotiators, including the Obama administration, agreed that the IAEA and Iran would forge separate arrangements to govern the inspection of the Parchin military complex — one of the most secretive military facilities in Iran — and how Iran would satisfy the IAEA’s outstanding questions regarding past weaponization work. Both arrangements will not be vetted by any organization other than Iran and the IAEA, and will not be released even to the nations that negotiated the JCPOA [Iran nuclear agreement]. This means that the secret arrangements have not been released for public scrutiny and have not been submitted to Congress as part of its legislatively mandated review of the Iran deal.'
"This means that two crucial measures of Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement will not be disclosed to Congress despite the requirements of the Corker-Cardin bill (the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act), which requires the Obama administration to provide the U.S. Congress with all documents associated with the agreement, including all 'annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements [emphasis added], implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical, or other understandings and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.'
"It also means that Congress will have no way of knowing whether Iran complied with either side agreement."
A few days later, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted the existence of these two secret “side deals” between Iran and the IAEA.
On August 19, 2015, Fox News issued a report indicating that one of the aforementioned side deals would permit Tehran "to use its own experts to inspect one of the country's most controversial nuclear sites" -- i.e., the Parchin site.
Suleimani Travels to Moscow, in Violation of the Accord
On July 24, 2015 -- just days after the siigning of the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran -- Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian commander of the Quds Force (an elite unit within Iran's Revolutionary Guard), traveled to Moscow to discuss Middle East strategy with Russian officials. This was done in violation of a travel ban that remained in place against Suleimani. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration was still "seeking facts" about the visit. "We have seen the same reports that you refer to," Power told reporters. "Qasem Soleimani is subject to a U.N. travel ban, and this travel ban requires all states to prohibit QS from traveling to their nation. The only exception to that is if the Iran sanctions committee grants an exemption. To our knowledge no such exemption was granted. We would know. So these are very concerning reports but we are still tracking down the facts."
Netanyahu Continues to Denounce the Nuclear Deal
In late July 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the following regarding Kerry's decision to skip over Israel during his upcoming Middle East trip. "There is no reason for him to come here." Regarding the deal itself, the prime minister stated: "This agreement has nothing to do with us and has no effect on [Israeli policy]. We're not partners at the table, but her menu."
During an August 4, 2015 conference call organized by the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA), Netanyahu urged those on the call to do everything in their power to stop the Obama administration from enacting it. Said Netanyahu: "This deal will bring war. It will spark a nuclear arms race in the region. And it would feed Iran’s terrorism and aggression that would make war, perhaps the most horrific war of all, far more likely.... The nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It actually paves Iran’s path to the bomb. Worse, it gives Iran two paths to the bomb. Iran can get to the bomb by keeping the deal or Iran can get to the bomb by violating the deal."
The prime minister added that even in the unlikely event that the Iranians might abide by the deal, they would nonetheless permitted to keep their “vast and deeply sophisticated” nuclear infrastructure intact, and within 10 to 15 years thereafter, their nuclear endeavors would receive “full international legitimacy.” By that time, he explained, “Iran will be able to produce the enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons ... very quickly.... After 15 years, Iran’s breakout time will be virtually zero, just a few days.... We’re told this deal buys us time, but 10 to 15 years is no time at all. By keeping the deal Iran can get in a decade or so not just to one bomb, but to many bombs.”
Khamenei's New Book on The Plan to Destroy Israel
In early August 2015, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published a new 416-page book titled Palestine, contending that Israel had no right to exist as a sovereign nation. He justified his position by citing “well-established Islamic principles” -- most notably, that any land that falls under Muslim rule, even briefly, can never again be governed or controlled by non-Muslims, even if a majority of its inhabitants are non-Muslims. In his book, Khamenei said he was not advocating “classical wars” aiming to “massacre the Jews,” but rather a long period of low-intensity warfare designed to make life so intolerable for most Jews, that they would eventually leave the region voluntarily, in the interest of self-preservation.
Obama Compares Iranian "Hardliners" to Republican Opponents of the Nuclear Deal
In a speech he delivered on August 5, 2015, Obama said: "I realize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran. It is offensive. It is incendiary. We do take it seriously. But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to talks… Just because Iranian hardliners chant 'Death to America' does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe. In fact, it’s those hardliners that are more satisfied with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting 'Death to America' who’ve been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus."
Iran Begins Sanitizing Nuclear Sites
On August 5, 2015, reporters Josh Rogin and Eli Lake wrote:
"The U.S. intelligence community has informed Congress of evidence that Iran was sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin, in broad daylight, days after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers.
"For senior lawmakers in both parties, the evidence calls into question Iran’s intention to fully account for the possible military dimensions of its current and past nuclear development. The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have a side agreement meant to resolve past suspicions about the Parchin site, and lawmakers' concerns about it has already become a flashpoint because they do not have access to its text.
"Intelligence officials and lawmakers who have seen the new evidence, which is still classified, told us that satellite imagery picked up by U.S. government assets in mid- and late July showed that Iran had moved bulldozers and other heavy machinery to the Parchin site and that the U.S. intelligence community concluded with high confidence that the Iranian government was working to clean up the site ahead of planned inspections by the IAEA."
Iran Finds "Surprise" Uranium Reserve
On September 12, 2015, the Daily Mail reported that the Iranian government had "found a surprise uranium reserve which could allow the country to fuel its nuclear programme without having to look abroad." "It was previously thought that Iran would have to import uranium from other countries in order to power its nuclear plants," said the Daily Mail, "which would have made it easier for the West to monitor the develop[ment] of the controversial project."
Implementation of the Iran Deal Violates Existing U.S. Law
On October 9, 2015, the Washington Free Beacon reported that according to senior U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Obama administration's imminent implementation of the Iran nuclear deal would constitute a violation of federal law. Specifically, said the Beacon, the deal contained “a sanctions relief provision” directing the U.S. to permit foreign subsidiaries of American businesses “to engage in activities with Iran” so long as Tehran abided by the deal’s stipulations─but that provision itself violated a law that President Obama had signed in 2012 to prevent foreign subsidiaries from doing business with Iran until it could be certified that: (a) “Iran has been removed from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism,” and (b) “Iran has ceased the pursuit, acquisition, and development of weapons of mass destruction.” (When the accord was struck, Iran was still on the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring nations.)
Iran's Illegal Missile Test
On March 9, 2016, Iran, for the second time in the post-nuclear-deal era, conducted a round of illegal ballistic missile tests; the first round had been conducted in October 2015. Breitbart.com reported:
Iran openly defied the United Nations and United States — which an Iranian general described as “our main enemy” — and threatened to walk away from President Obama’s nuclear deal. “State media announced that short-, medium- and long-range precision guided missiles were fired from several sites to show the country’s ‘all-out readiness to confront threats’ against its territorial integrity,” AFP reported. The Iranian broadcasts included pictures of the launches, which included ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 2,000 kilometers. AFP notes these missile exercises were dubbed “The Power of Velayat” by Iran, a “reference to the religious doctrine of the Islamic republic’s leadership.” More specifically, it apparently refers to a book by the revolutionary Ayatollah Khomeini, in which he argued that Islamic sharia law should rule over secular government, administered by clerical “guardians” — the essence of “hardline” political thought in Iran.
The launches were conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is under the command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not President Hassan Rouhani.... “Our main enemies, the Americans, who mutter about plans, have activated new missile sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and are seeking to weaken the country’s missile capability,” said IRGC Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh in a TV interview. “The Guards and other armed forces are defenders of the revolution and the country will not pay a toll to anyone… and will stand against their excessive demands.”
For all his alleged “moderation,” AFP notes that President Rouhani said in response to the prospect of fresh sanctions against Iran over missile violations: “Any action will be met by a reaction.” Those reactions include a threat to walk away from Obama’s nuclear deal, if the U.S. insists on holding Iran to parts of the deal it doesn’t like.
“If our interests are not met under the nuclear deal, there will be no reason for us to continue. What makes us remain committed to the deal is our national interests,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi said ... during an address to an Iranian legal council. He implied that it would be America that nullified the deal, by imposing any further sanctions against Iran.
Massive U.S. Payment to Iran Coincides with Iran's Release of U.S. Sailors Who Had Been Taken Hostage
On January 19, 2016, the Washington Examiner reported:
“The White House on Tuesday rejected the idea that the United States paid a ransom to free five Americans [sailors whose small Riverine boats had allegedly crossed into Iranian territorial waters] held hostage by Iran. Washington did pay Tehran $1.7 billion on the same day the Islamic republic said it would finally free the hostages, but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that was to settle a long-standing claim against the U.S.
“Before Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, the U.S. accepted $400 million from its secular government as payment for military equipment, Earnest explained Tuesday. However, once students overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took scores of American diplomats hostage, Washington refused to ship the hardware, and also never returned the money. Iran went to the International Court at The Hague to seek damages, and the two countries have haggled for years over how much Washington owes Tehran....
“The corresponding timing of the claims payment and hostage release 'is not a coincidence,' Earnest said, but also does not represent a ransom payment. It's a sign of 'deeper diplomatic engagement' that is allowing the two capitals to close the books on unresolved issues, Earnest said. 'And we used that opening, and we used that deeper diplomatic engagement to secure the release of five American citizens who were being unjustly held inside of Iran, and we used that diplomatic opening to resolve a long-standing financial claim,' he said.”
In June 2016, Iranian officials disclosed that their government had spent that $1.7 billion to expand its military.
On August 3, 2016, the Clarion Project reported:
"The U.S. paid Iran $400 million in cash last January when Iran released four Americans held in prison in the Islamic Republic. The payment was separate from lifting of international sanctions against Iran, which amounted to $50-100 billion frozen in accounts around the world.... The Obama administration denied that the money was a payoff for the release of the Americans but said rather that it was the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement of an existing claim Iran had against the U.S.... At the time of the prisoner release, U.S. President Barack Obama did not mention the cash payment, but said only, 'With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.' U.S. officials have admitted, however, that Iranians demanded the payment so they could that Iran had gained 'something tangible' from the prisoner exchange, despite the fact that the U.S. released seven Iranians detained or indicted in the U.S. for sanctions violations.... In addition, the U.S. agreed to drop charges against 14 Iranians whom they had requested be extradited to the U.S. The cash payment, which was reported in the Iranian press as a ransom payment, was airlifted [in an unmarked cargo plane] to Iran from banks in the Netherlands and Switzerland."
Obama Misleads the American People Regarding the Details of the Iran Deal
David Samuels's May 2016 New York Times profile of Obama advisor Benjamin Rhodes explains how Rhodes willingly and proudly used his storytelling skills to deceive the American public regarding the details and implications of the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had recently negotiated with Iran—an agreement allowing the terrorism-supporting regime in Tehran to inspect its own Parchin nuclear weapons research site, conduct uranium enrichment, build advanced centrifuges, buy ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb. Key excerpts from the Times piece include the following:
Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal is likely to be a model for how future administrations explain foreign policy to Congress and the public. The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal. Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false. Obama’s closest advisers always understood him to be eager to do a deal with Iran as far back as 2012, and even since the beginning of his presidency....
In the narrative that Rhodes shaped, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013, when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program. The president set out the timeline himself in his speech announcing the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” While the president’s statement was technically accurate — there had in fact been two years of formal negotiations leading up to the signing of the J.C.P.O.A. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] — it was also actively misleading, because the most meaningful part of the negotiations with Iran had begun in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the “moderate” camp were chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration. By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making. By eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries, which would create the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.
The nerve center for the selling of the Iran deal to Congress, which took place in a concentrated three-month period between July and September of last year, was located inside the White House, and is referred to by its former denizens as “the war room.” Chad Kreikemeier, a Nebraskan who had worked in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, helped run the team, which included three to six people from each of several agencies, he says, which were the State Department, Treasury, the American delegation to the United Nations (i.e.,Samantha Power), “at times D.O.D.” (the Department of Defense) and also the Department of Energy and the National Security Council. Rhodes “was kind of like the quarterback,” running the daily video conferences and coming up with lines of attack and parry. “He was extremely good about immediately getting to a phrase or a way of getting the message out that just made more sense,” Kreikemeier remembers. Framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes’s go-to move — and proved to be a winning argument....
In the spring of , legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” [Rhodes] admitted, when I [reporter David Samuels] asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
When I [Samuels] suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.
Iran's Mistreatment of U.S. Sailors
On May 16, 2016, the Washington Free Beacon reported:
The classified details behind Iran’s treatment of several U.S. sailors who were captured by the Islamic Republic during a tense standoff earlier this year are likely to shock the nation, according to one member of the House Armed Services Committee, who disclosed to the Washington Free Beacon that these details are currently being withheld by the Obama administration. Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.) told the Free Beacon in an interview that the Obama administration is still keeping details of the maritime incident under wraps. It could be a year or longer before the American public receives a full accounting of the incident, in which several U.S. sailors were abducted at gunpoint by the Iranian military.... “I think that when the details actually come out, most Americans are going to be kind of taken aback by the entire incident, both how Iran handled it and how we handled it,” Forbes disclosed. “I think that’s going to be huge cause for concern for most Americans. That’s why I’ve encouraged members of Congress to get that briefing so they do know exactly what did take place.”
Forbes suggested that Iran’s treatment of the U.S. sailors—which included filming them crying and forcing them to apologize at gunpoint—may have been much worse than what has been publicly reported. “I think clearly there were violations of international and maritime law that took place here,” Forbes said. “We [the United States] did almost nothing in response, in fact, to have Secretary [of State John] Kerry actually thank them for releasing our sailors after they way they captured them, I think was a slap in the sailors’ face.”
Iran Threatens to Restart Its Nuclear Program
On June 28, 2016, the Washington Free Beacon reported:
Iran on Tuesday threatened to restart its contested nuclear program in violation of last summer’s international agreement if the United States and other countries fail to move forward with a massive sanctions relief program aimed at bolstering the Iranian economy, according to comments by a top Iranian leader. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chair of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, warned that the Islamic Republic would “resume large-scale uranium enrichment” if leaders feel the international community is not doing enough for Iran under the nuclear deal. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s response to the other side’s non-compliance with the implementation of the nuclear deal will be uranium enrichment,” Boroujerdi was quoted as saying in Iran’s state-controlled press.
The comments come on the heels of a similar warning issued by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei earlier this month. Khamenei expressed outrage over comments by Republican leaders criticizing the Islamic Republic’s commitment to the deal. “We do not violate the [nuclear deal], but if the opposite party violates it and tears it apart as the U.S. presidential candidates state and threaten at present, then we will burn it,” Khamanei was quoted as saying.
Blogger Daniel Greenfield put this development in perspective, writing: "Considering that the terms of the deal could be read quite generously, Iran gets an open ended blackmail card, especially with the matter of state sanctions. And any time Iran isn't getting its way, it will threaten to go back to openly, instead of covertly, pursuing its nuclear program."
Iran's Multiple Illegal Attempts to Acquire WMD Technology
On July 10, 2016, The Clarion Project reported:
Since signing the nuclear agreement with the world’s powers, it has been revealed that Iran has tried illegally to obtain nuclear, chemical, biological and missile-related technology to advance all of these programs for the Islamic Republic. In an exclusive report based on the examination of intelligence data from 16 German states, the Jerusalem Post details new information on Iran’s wide range of activities to procure these materials. The Post reveals, in just one example, “The state of Saarland wrote in its 2015 intelligence report released last month that ‘so-called danger states, for example, Iran and North Korea, make efforts to obtain technology for atomic, biological or chemical weapons.’ Iran also seeks ‘missile delivery systems as well as goods and know-how for proliferation.’” An intelligence report released in June by the Rhineland-Palatinate state shows that “Iran was one of the foreign countries that targeted ‘German companies’ in the state whose equipment could be ‘implemented for atomic, biological and chemical weapons in a war.’” The North Rhine-Westphalia state’s domestic intelligence report similarly states that Iran made 83 attempts to obtain illicit technology for weapons proliferation in 2014 and 141 attempts in 2015. The report notes that 90% of the attempted acquisitions were for the development of nuclear-weapon devices and missile launchers.
The years in question were the same years that Iran and the world powers were engaged in prolonged negotiations to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its accompanying missile development program. In exchange for the Islamic Republic’s demilitarization, the world agreed to lift financial sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy....
One of the conditions of the nuclear agreement was that Iran would refrain from developing its missile program for eight years. Shortly after the agreement was made, which never came to a vote in Congress due to a filibuster by Democrats, Iran tested its first in a series of ballistic missiles (weapons that are used almost exclusively to deliver a nuclear warhead). In a shocking turn around, the Obama administration told the American public that the missile test did not violate the nuclear deal but was “altogether separate from the nuclear agreement Iran reached with the rest of the world.” After the test, the most criticism the U.S. could muster was to say that there were “strong indications” that the test violated United Nations Security Council resolution 1929 which forbids Iran from developing and testing such missiles.
Not surprisingly, by the end of 2015, the IAEA closed the file on any possible military dimensions of the Iran’s nuclear program, completely letting Iran off the hook. Subsequent missile testing – including one ballistic missile with the words written in Hebrew “Israel should be wiped out” – have elicited similar flaccid responses.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Brig.-Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards, threatened Israel, saying that Iran has “in Lebanon, over than 100,000 missiles ready to be launched.” He also threatened the rest of the world, saying that Iran has “tens of thousands of other high-precision and long-range missiles” which it will use “to destroy any place that constitutes a threat to our regime without taking anything into consideration.”
Secret Agreement Ensured That Iran Would Be Able to Enrich Uranium Much Sooner Than Obama Led Americans to Believe
On July 18, 2016, The Washington Times reported: "A document obtained by The Associated Press shows that key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will ease in slightly more than a decade, halving the time Tehran would need to build a bomb. The document is the only secret text linked to last year’s agreement between Iran and six foreign powers. It says that after a period between 11 to 13 years, Iran can replace its 5,060 inefficient centrifuges with up to 3,500 advanced machines. Since those are five times as efficient, the time Iran would need to make a weapon would drop from a year to six months.... Two diplomats providing the information ... demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to do so."
In the Latest in a Long Line of Provocations, Iran Threatens to Shoot Down U.S. Spy Plane
On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, Fox News reported:
Iran threatened to shoot down two US Navy surveillance aircraft flying close to Iranian territory in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, the latest in a series of recent provocations between Iran and the US military in the region, three US defense officials with knowledge of the incident told Fox News.
On Sept. 10, a Navy P-8 Poseidon with a crew of nine and an EP-3 Eries with a crew of roughly 24, were flying a reconnaissance mission 13 miles off the coast of Iran, in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, according to officials.
Iran’s territorial waters—like all nations--extend 12 miles into the sea, according to international maritime law.
At some point during the flight, the Iranian military warned the two aircraft to change course or risk getting shot down.
The US military planes ignored the warning and continued flying in international airspace, although close to Iranian territory, the officials told Fox.
“We wanted to test the Iranian reaction,” one US official told Fox News when asked why the US jets were flying close to Iran.
“It’s one thing to tell someone to get off your lawn, but we weren’t on their lawn,” the official continued. “Anytime you threaten to shoot someone down, it’s not considered professional.”
The official said the Iranian behavior was characterized as “unprofessional.” Another official said the incident was not considered “unsafe” because there were no Iranian missile launchers in the area, according to the latest intelligence reports.
The latest incident between the US military and Iran is just the latest in a series of confrontations in region.
Last month, Iranian fast-boats harassed US Navy warships in the Persian Gulf on at least five occasions. One incident resulting in three warning shots being fired from a US Navy coastal patrol craft, when an Iranian vessel ignored repeated radio calls to change course. On another occasion, an Iranian boat stopped 100 yards in front of a US Navy ship forcing it to take evasive maneuvers.
Over the weekend, a senior Iranian military commander dismissed claims that his vessels had harassed US Navy ships in in the Persian Gulf saying his nation acted in accordance with internationally recognized maritime law.
"Iranian boats continue to act based on defined standards and are well aware of the international laws and regulations, so the claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of Iran's soldiers," said Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, according to state news agency IRNA and reported by AFP.
Dangerous interactions at sea between Iran and the US Navy have doubled in the first half of 2016 compared to the same time last year, Fox News first reported last month.
On Aug. 30, the head of US forces in the Middle East was asked to explain Iran’s perceived aggressiveness.
“This is principally the regime leadership trying to exert their influence and authority in the region. And they are trying to do it in provocative ways,” said Gen. Joe Votel, commander of US Central Command at a Pentagon press briefing.
In July, days after the one-year anniversary of the nuclear agreement, Iranattempted at least their fourth ballistic missile test in violation of a UN Security Council resolution tied to the nuclear agreement.
In January, Iran took 10 US Navy sailors captive after their two patrol boats traveled into Iranian waters before releasing them 16 hours later.
In December, an Iranian missile boat fired several unguided rockets close to a US Navy aircraft carrier transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
How the Iran Deal Helps Hezbollah
On November 29, 2016, The Hill reported:
Surveying the conflict in Syria over the last 6-plus years, it’s not hard to find losing parties in the wreckage.
Thousands of innocent children, civilians, doctors, first responders, and journalists fill casualty lists — non-combatant collateral damage. The Syrian Arab Army can’t credibly claim to have “won,” either, as both ISIS and non-ISIS rebel groups are still trying to bring down its regime.
And ISIS itself — belatedly — appears to be losing ground, in no small part thanks to the direct intervention of Russia and Iran.
But one group, Hezbollah, is reaping significant tangible benefits from fighting in Syria. Not that they haven’t been been bloodied. The group has lost an estimated 1,500 fighters since 2011, with more than three times that wounded.
That’s not a small number considering its total force is under 50,000 men, less than half in regular service. Some estimates suggest as many as 10,000 Hezbollah fighters have been deployed to Syria.
But Hezbollah’s blood sacrifice for the Assad regime has been compensated for in other ways.
Predictably, the Iran deal was a boon for the group. Even Secretary of State Kerry publicly admitted that part of the financial windfall from the Iran deal would likely make its way to "terrorist groups" (a thinly veiled reference to Hezbollah) via the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
And though there hasn’t been much open source reporting on how Hezbollah has benefited from monies related to the Iran deal, we do know that the Iranian government increased its most recent defense budget by 90 percent compared to the previous year.
Since Hezbollah may have been receiving as much as $200 million a year from Tehran, and in view of the Islamic Republic’s expectations of Hezbollah’s commitment in Syria, it’s not a stretch to assume that the group has received more money, even if it doesn’t get a larger share of the pie.
Moreover, the Iran deal also de-listed a vast swath of Tehran’s covert procurement network. Much of this was developed to acquire prohibited dual-use items for Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Other parts of it, though, such as cargo ships connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, were also used to ferry weapons and materiel to Hezbollah via Syria. The Iran deal effectively legalized this hitherto illegal network.
Also as part of the deal, the European Union and the U.K. recently lifted sanctions on Bank Saderat, long known by U.S. intelligence and sanctioned for transferring money on behalf of Tehran to Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other nefarious organizations.
Hezbollah is also using new weaponry in Syria. Since the end of its 2006 war with Israel, Iran and Syria had begun to improve Hezbollah’s war fighting capability.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz produced a report in July illustrating Hezbollah’s transformation from an organized but under-resourced terror group into a proper army; this augmentation took place partly before the group’s involvement in Syria.
But a Washington Institute report also assessed that Hezbollah fighters’ access to more advanced Russian surface-to-air and rocket systems in Syria could help them in future conflicts.
And Israel’s interceptions of several shipments of guided missiles, advanced anti-aircraft systems and anti-ship cruise missiles in recent years suggest that the group will have the capacity to use these systems in future engagements.
Furthermore, Syria is providing current combat experience for Hezbollah, whose last large-scale military engagement was a decade ago.
In the intervening years, older fighters have retired and newer ones have joined up. Without the Syrian civil war, many of these new fighters would still be green and untested when the next (inevitable) war with the Jewish State occurs.
In a candid moment, a Hezbollah special forces commander recently admitted to VOA that, “in some ways, Syria is a dress rehearsal for our next war with Israel.”
The new cadre of fighters Hezbollah is bringing in is also professionalizing what was previously an explicitly guerrilla-oriented organization. The fight for Syria against the nominally Sunni “Takfiri” (apostate) ISIS, has been a gift to the Shia Hezbollah, spurring recruitment efforts. Put simply, Hezbollah is not just getting better at fighting, its army is also getting bigger.
Finally, the political fallout from the Obama administration’s often aloof posture toward Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has encouraged Iran and Hezbollah to consolidate political power in Beirut.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced it would suspend $3 billion in military aid to Lebanon, a move widely interpreted as an exasperated admission by Riyadh that Lebanon was now mostly controlled by Hezbollah.
Previously Hezbollah had acted as a “state within” the Lebanese state, controlling the Israel-facing Southern portion of the country. With the recent election of Michel Aoun as president, however, Hezbollah’s grip on Lebanese democratic institutions is strengthening. Though a Maronite Christian, Aoun has nevertheless been an ally of Hezbollah since at least its 2006 war.
While Israel’s Defense Forces are still vastly superior to Hezbollah in terms of both numbers and training, Hezbollah’s rise certainly won’t be welcomed in Jerusalem.
Israel might be assured of winning the next war, but Hezbollah is in a better position than ever to inflict civilian casualties, raising the stakes on both sides.
The "Party of God" has reaped rewards as a result of its engagement in Syria, making it more dangerous and promising that Hezbollah will remain a concern for policymakers in both Israel and the United States for years to come.
Obama Approves Massive Transfer of Uranium to Iran
On January 9, 2017, the Associated Press reported:
Iran is to receive a huge shipment of natural uranium from Russia to compensate it for exporting tons of reactor coolant, diplomats say, in a move approved by the outgoing U.S. administration and other governments seeking to keep Tehran committed to a landmark nuclear pact.
Two senior diplomats said the transfer recently approved by the U.S. and five other world powers that negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran foresees delivery of 116 metric tons (nearly 130 tons) of natural uranium.
U.N. Security Council approval is needed but a formality, considering five of those powers are permanent Security Council members, they said.
Uranium can be enriched to levels ranging from reactor fuel or medical and research purposes to the core of an atomic bomb. Iran says it has no interest in such weapons and its activities are being closely monitored under the nuclear pact to make sure they remain peaceful.
Tehran already got a similar amount of natural uranium in 2015 as part of negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal, in a swap for enriched uranium it sent to Russia. But the new shipment will be the first such consignment since the deal came into force a year ago.
The diplomats, whose main focus is Iran's nuclear program, demanded anonymity Monday because they are not allowed to discuss the program's confidential details.
They spoke ahead of a meeting this week in Vienna of representatives of Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to review Iranian complaints that the U.S. was reneging on sanctions relief pledges included in the nuclear deal. ...
Despite present restrictions on its enrichment program, however, the amount of natural uranium is significant should Iran decide to keep it in storage, considering its potential uses once some limits on Tehran's nuclear activities start to expire in less than a decade.
David Albright, whose Institute of Science and International Security often briefs U.S. lawmakers on Iran's nuclear program, says the shipment could be enriched to enough weapons-grade uranium for more than 10 simple nuclear bombs, "depending on the efficiency of the enrichment process and the design of the nuclear weapon."
The swap is in compensation for the approximately 40 metric tons (44 tons) of heavy water exported by Iran to Russia since the nuclear agreement went into effect, said an official from one of the six powers, who also demanded anonymity citing confidentiality issues. Another 30 metric tons have gone to the U.S. and Oman.
Heavy water is used to cool a type of reactor that produces more plutonium than reactors cooled by light water. Like enriched uranium, plutonium can be turned into the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.
Blockbuster Report About Obama's Deceptions and Treachery Regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal
On April 24, 2017, Politico.com reported:
When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.
“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”
But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.
In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”
In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.
And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”
Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.
A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.
The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.
When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.
“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”
In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.
Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested.
Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.
And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.
“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.
“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.
The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.
“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.
A SHREWD CALCULATION
The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.
That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”
On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”
Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.
Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.
That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”
But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.
Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.
“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”
Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.
“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”
Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.
So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.
It wasn’t just that prosecutors and agents with years of detailed knowledge about the cases were left out of the consultations about the significance of the 21 men let go in the swap. The lack of input also meant that negotiators were making decisions without fully understanding how the releases would impact the broader and interconnected matrix of U.S. investigations.
At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.
“So when they downplayed it, it really infuriated people,” said Kenneth MacDonald, a former senior Homeland Security official who helped establish the multi-agency coordination center at the heart of the National Counterproliferation Initiative.
“They’d spent months or years on these cases and the decisions were made with no review of what the implications were,” said MacDonald, who retired in 2013 but keeps in contact with agents as co-principal investigator at the DHS-affiliated Institute for Security Policy at Northeastern University. “There was absolutely no consultation.”
A SYSTEM IN LIMBO
In a series of interviews, senior officials from the Obama White House and Justice and State Departments said the prisoner swap was a bargain for the U.S., given the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and three others. Iran also promised cooperation on the case of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran nearly a decade earlier and was believed to be either imprisoned or dead.
Those senior officials acknowledged that all but a handful of people were kept in the dark, but said top representatives of the Justice Department and FBI helped vet the 21 Iranian proliferators and that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself participated in blocking some other individuals demanded by Tehran from inclusion in potential prisoner trades.
“The condition was that they not be engaged in anything remotely attached to violence or proliferation activities,” said one senior Obama administration official familiar with the swap negotiations. “And none of them were in any stage where they were providing assistance to the [Tehran] government.”
That may be true for the seven men granted clemency in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the case for the 14 fugitives.
“These were people under active investigation, who we wanted very badly because they were operating at such a high level that they could help us begin to find out what was happening inside the black box of how Iran’s procurement networks really operate,” said Aaron Arnold, a former intelligence analyst at CPC2, the FBI’s special Counterproliferation Center unit dedicated to thwarting Iranian nuclear and weapons smuggling. “Without that kind of strategic insight, it leaves our analysts, but more importantly, our policy-makers just guessing at what Iran is up to and how to stop it.”
Fifteen months later, the fallout from the nuclear deal and prisoner swap — and questions about the events leading up to them — continue to reverberate through the Justice Department and the specialized units at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department created to neutralize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear and military ambitions.
The National Counterproliferation Initiative, created with much fanfare a decade ago, has suffered greatly, many participants said, even as they acknowledged that metrics are hard to come by. Much of the work is done in secret, and in long-range efforts that can’t be publicly disclosed, much less measured in annual arrest or conviction statistics.
But key enforcement efforts are in limbo as the result of stalled or stymied investigations and prosecutions, and the trail of some high-value targets has gone cold, numerous participants said.
At least six times in the run-up to the nuclear deal, federal investigators scrambled to get Justice and State Department approval to lure top Iranian targets into traveling internationally in order to arrest them, according to one top Obama administration Justice Department official and other participants. But the requests weren’t approved and the targets vanished, depriving the U.S. of some of its best opportunities to gain insight into the workings of Tehran’s nuclear, missile and military programs, the sources said.
“We would say, ‘We have this opportunity and if we don’t do it now, we’ll never have the opportunity ever again,” the recently departed Justice Department official recalls. But, he added, “There were periods of time where State Department cooperation was necessary but not forthcoming.”
Obama Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment through a former senior State Department official, who said certain requests might have been delayed temporarily because they came at particularly sensitive times in the negotiations, but only with the concurrence of the White House and Justice Department.
But even now, many experienced agents and prosecutors say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear that they won’t go anywhere. They say they have also received no helpful guidance on what they can — and cannot — investigate going forward given the complicated parameters of the Iran deal and lifting of nuclear sanctions. Some said they are biding their time to see how hard-liners in the new administration, including Trump himself, deal with Iran.
But others have grown so frustrated that they have moved on from the counterproliferation effort, taking with them decades of investigative experience and relationships cultivated with other government agencies and cooperating U.S. companies, a number of current and former officials said.
And critical momentum has been lost, many say, as the 10-year anniversary of the initiative in October approaches.
“This has erased literally years — many years — of hard work, and important cases that can be used to build toward other cases and even bigger players in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs,” said former Justice Department counterproliferation prosecutor David Locke Hall, adding that the swap demolished the deterrent effect that the arrests and convictions may have had. “Even though these men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, the [Obama] administration has essentially told them their efforts have produced nothing more than political capital that can be traded away when politically expedient.”
One senior Obama administration official who served at the White House and DHS disagreed, saying much of the intelligence about Iranian networks remains usable even though the 21 cases were vacated, and that counterproliferation agents are a resilient bunch who will continue to do their jobs.
When asked whether the counterproliferation effort has struggled, one current Justice Department spokesman said no and quipped, “We are still in the export violation prosecuting business.”
That may be the case, said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector whose decades of scientific research into Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program brings him into regular close contact with federal authorities.
But like others involved in ongoing U.S. counterproliferation efforts, Albright said he witnessed many instances since late 2014 in which important investigations and prosecutions were hindered. Albright, who serves as an expert witness in Justice Department Iran trafficking prosecutions, added that federal agents have told him of numerous cases of “lure memos” and other requests never approved by the State Department.
“You can’t keep turning these down and expecting them to want to keep doing this,” said Albright, who added that efforts to lure suspects to countries where they can be arrested are essential in getting beyond the lower rungs of middlemen for Iran. He said he could not disclose specific details, but said, “The amount of rejections has risen to the level where people were worried that it would kill the counterproliferation effort.”
“They had wanted all of these things prosecuted, they were on a roll, they were freaking out the Iranians and then they were told, boom, stop,” Albright said of the Obama administration’s counterproliferation efforts. “And it’s hard to get them back again. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, destroying the infrastructure that we created to enforce the laws against the Iranians.”
The repercussions from the prisoner swap are especially strong in Boston, where authorities had worked for years to build the case against Jamili, the suspected Iranian nuclear procurement agent, and his China-based associate Sihai Cheng.
The two were secretly indicted in 2013 along with two Iranian companies, and Cheng pleaded guilty in mid-December 2015 to four criminal counts. He acknowledged conspiring with Jamili to knowingly provide more than 1,000 high-tech components known as pressure transducers to Iran, which authorities say advanced its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Less than a month later, though, as the prisoner swap unfolded, Boston prosecutors got orders from Washington to file court papers vacating the charges against Jamili and dropping the Interpol arrest warrant for him.
It wasn’t until later that the case agents and prosecutors learned that the Iranian negotiators had specifically demanded that Jamili be included in the swap, said Arnold, the former analyst at the FBI’s Counterproliferation Center Iran unit, where he headed a financial intelligence team tracking the money flows of the Iranian networks.
A GLOBAL CAT AND MOUSE GAME
By the time of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap, the U.S. government had spent 35 years in pursuit of Iran’s ever more sophisticated web of smugglers, traffickers, transport operatives and procurement agents.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared that Iran constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. security after Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostage 52 Americans. Tehran began calling the United States “the Great Satan” and vowed its destruction, in part by using proxy forces like Hezbollah.
A raft of economic sanctions against Iran and Iranian entities were put in place, followed by other restrictions on U.S. parts and technology that Tehran needed for military or other restricted applications, including its squadrons of F-class fighter jets that Washington sold it during friendlier times. Its ambitious ballistic missile program became a grave concern over the years, especially when it became apparent that Tehran was using U.S. commodities to engineer inter-continental versions that could reach the United States, and to top them with nuclear, conventional or even chemical and biological weapons.
And as Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ramped up, so did the U.S. effort to stop it.
Overseas, U.S. intelligence operatives shadowed Iranian procurement agents, cultivated informants and used cyberweapons to sabotage Iran’s clandestine program. The U.S. military tried to interdict illicit shipments headed for Tehran. The Treasury Department issued endless rounds of targeted sanctions, but each time it restricted access to global markets for suspect individuals and companies, Tehran would simply create new ones. And successive administrations tried the diplomatic route to slow or stop Iranian proliferation, including Tehran’s efforts to share weapons and research with other enemies of the United States, without success.
In response, federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors were deployed to shut down the Iranian procurement networks and dam the rivers of U.S. parts and technology illicitly flowing to Iran in violation of export control laws.
That proved virtually impossible, given the hundreds of trading, shipping and transport companies Iran employed, and the complex payment schemes and often unwitting procurement agents it used to get the products via other countries with lax export controls.
Meanwhile, since at least 1982, the Government Accountability Office began issuing stinging reports about how the lack of coordination and information-sharing among U.S. agencies severely hampered efforts to bring criminal cases against traffickers.
After the 9/11 attacks, those turf battles intensified. The cases often took years to investigate, and federal agents from two or even three agencies would sometimes discover they were conducting international undercover operations against the same target, a top former Homeland Security official recalls.
Securing convictions from American juries was also a huge challenge given the complex nature of the cases, especially when the procurement networks were buying so-called dual-use components that also could be used for less nefarious purposes.
Two post-9/11 cases exposed gaping holes in the global counterproliferation safety net. In the United States, Israeli-born trafficker Asher Karni was arrested for illegally shipping suspected U.S. nuclear components to Pakistan for its atomic bomb arsenal. And in Pakistan, metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan was caught selling his country's nuclear capability to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Both cases ratcheted up Washington’s fears that the vast underground of WMD trafficking rings could sell their wares to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
In 2007, the Bush administration responded by establishing the National Counterproliferation Initiative, charging the Justice Department with coordinating and expanding U.S. efforts to dismantle the procurement networks.
Task forces were established around the country, with special training for prosecutors and agents in how to collectively build cases that would not only put front-line traffickers in prison, but also map the illicit networks and target their leadership.
From the outset, Iran cases were front and center, especially in cities like San Diego, Houston and New York with large military, industrial or technology sectors. Boston, in particular, seemed a favorite of the Iranian networks.
Soon, the multi-agency teams were homing in on key players in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and another network procuring the IED components that Tehran’s fearsome Revolutionary Guard used to assist Iraqi insurgents killing American troops in Iraq.
An early high-value target was Amin Ravan, who by 2008 was working with a Singapore firm on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Organization, described by a secret State Department cable that year as “the umbrella organization and key procurement center for all Iranian industries responsible for developing and manufacturing missiles.”
Another was Behrouz Dolatzadeh, the suspected assault weapons buyer for Tehran. Authorities say he had been active as far back as 1995 in illegal arms smuggling and other illegal activities in connection with a sprawling business empire linked to Iran’s hard-line leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
By 2011, the Justice-led task forces had developed so many promising leads that the FBI, Commerce and Homeland Security Department had created special units to better coordinate efforts. Together, they also improved liaisons with overseas law enforcement agencies instrumental in interdicting shipments headed for Iran.
And working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department, the task forces successfully lured several key Iranian operatives out of Tehran and China for capture elsewhere, including two who would end up on Obama’s prisoner swap list.
Dolatzadeh was indicted under seal in Arizona in February 2012, lured to the Czech Republic to inspect weapons en route to Iran, and arrested. And Ravan, already linked to the IED network, was secretly indicted in Washington in November 2012 and captured soon after in Malaysia.
And after a three-year undercover investigation, U.S. authorities lured a major Iranian proliferator named Parviz Khaki to the Philippines in May 2012 and arrested him on charges of conspiring to smuggle nuclear-related U.S. equipment to Iran.
“By dismantling this complex conspiracy … we have disrupted a significant threat to national security,” John Morton, then-director of DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at the time.
All three investigations provided U.S. officials with unprecedented insight into Iran’s secret procurement efforts, current and former task force members said. But Dolatzadeh and Ravan were released by courts overseas, and Khaki died in custody, before the U.S. could extradite them.
The counterproliferation teams also enlisted the help of American companies, providing them with Iran’s massive shopping list of needed items and hotlines to call when they got a nibble.
“It took a long time to mature, but by 2013 to 2014, it became very evident that we were getting a lot of great leads,” recalls Randall Coleman, who as assistant FBI director oversaw the bureau’s fledgling Counterproliferation Center and special coordinators in all 56 field offices.
“We were very aggressive, and as a result of that, our caseload went up about 500 percent,” Coleman said. “It really exploded. We were rocking and rolling.”
One of the most promising cases was in Boston, where federal agents were deep into their investigation of the illicit flow of parts to Iran from a Massachusetts firm, MKS Instruments, and its Shanghai subsidiary.
With help from MKS, which was not suspected of wrongdoing, agents initially focused on Cheng and gathered evidence that he had been indirectly supplying Iran with components with nuclear applications for years. The trail led to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, an Iranian company designated by European authorities as an entity involved in developing and procuring parts for Iran's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“Time is important, not only for you, for me, for your end user, but also for your nation,” Cheng wrote in a 2010 instant message to a suspected Iranian accomplice. “I personally believe the war will break out in 2 years and that will be the start of World War Three.”
But the agents’ curiosity was also piqued by another message from back in 2007, in which the Iranian accomplice, Seyed Jamili, asked Cheng for thousands of pressure transducers, for “a very big project and secret one.”
The project, authorities determined, was Iran’s clandestine uranium nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, where the transducers helped run thousands of gas centrifuge cascades to reach weapons-grade capability. There was even a photo of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring Natanz, with the centrifuges — and MKS transducers clearly visible — in the background.
International U.S. arrest warrants were secretly issued for the two men, and authorities nabbed Cheng when he traveled to London to watch a soccer match in February 2014. After he was extradited and brought to Boston that December, authorities began to realize that Jamili was a far more important cog in Iran’s proliferation network than they had suspected.
It was Jamili who had recruited Cheng with the promise of big and easy money, they determined, and who had been using his Iranian import-export firm as cover for personally recruiting other procurement agents on trips to China and possibly other countries.
Around that same time, negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran were heating up, and so were the top-secret prisoner swap talks on the sidelines of them.
AN OPERATIONAL SLOWDOWN
By the winter of 2014, federal agents and prosecutors began to detect waning support at the higher rungs of the Obama administration for their counterproliferation efforts against Iran, according to numerous officials involved. Also, they said, Justice Department management — and an interagency Iran working group — suddenly were scrutinizing Iran cases more closely, asking a lot more questions and holding up requests and approvals that in the past had been routine.
No specific guidance or order was given, some said, but the message was clear.
“They didn’t want to have cases just popping up in the workup to the agreement or shortly after the agreement. The administration would not look good if there were [cases documenting] these acquisition attempts. And the Iranians kept doing it,” MacDonald, the former senior Homeland Security official, said of Tehran’s illegal procurement efforts.
“They were never told no, just to wait,” MacDonald said of the agents. “It was a common theme among the people working these cases. The official response was that nothing had changed, that if you brought the case forward, it would be worked. But unofficially, that was just not the case.”
Some of the cases involved significant investigations into nuclear and missile proliferation that required State Department approval, including visas to lure suspects to the U.S. for arrest, said MacDonald, who had also served on the White House Task Force on Export Control Reform. “I’ve been told that the highest levels of the State Department weren’t processing those, and the cases couldn’t move forward.”
A former senior State Department official said that in most cases, State Department and White House could only provide nonbinding guidance on how ongoing law enforcement operations might affect the sensitive negotiations. Ultimately, he said, the Justice Department was responsible for pushing back and protecting the integrity of its investigations and prosecutions.
And while it’s possible that federal law enforcement officials missed opportunities as a result of State Department delays, “I am not aware of a single case where they lost out on some key arrest or information, or some proliferation activity was allowed to continue,” the former senior State Department official said, adding that some lures and extraditions were approved “until the very end of our tenure.”
Richard Nephew, a former top Iran sanctions official at the State Department and National Security Council, said any delays were “much more a case of managing the diplomatic initiative than letting the bad guys get away with stuff. If we found out in the NSC that something involved active law enforcement activity, then we were advised to stay the hell away from it.”
A top Obama Justice Department official rejected the notion that the State Department didn’t undermine important cases. He said prosecutors and investigators sometimes acceded to requests for delays they believed to be reasonable. But they became infuriated at times, he said, especially when opportunities to lure and arrest key Iranian proliferators were lost due to delay or outright rejection by State.
“The impediment was not the leadership of DOJ but the other agencies that DOJ has to work with to bring these cases successfully,” the Obama Justice official said. “They can kibosh it, they can pocket veto it, they can tell us no, they can punt it down a couple of steps.”
Justice Department officials demanded “high-level conversations” with the State Department and White House, but “not a whole lot” changed, the Obama Justice official said. “Did it fix the issue? I don’t think it did. I remember people up and down at DOJ being frustrated with the inability to move things.”
A senior former federal law enforcement official involved in counterproliferation efforts agreed, saying the FBI was especially impacted. “Did some of these other agencies’ actions … undermine what we were trying to accomplish in terms of the Iran network in the U.S.? Yes. But you are treading into waters where people don’t like what you are doing because it affects other things they are trying to do, diplomatically and politically.”
Ultimately, the dysfunction created by the slowdown spread far beyond the enforcement agencies and damaged relationships with partners in private industry and foreign governments, former DHS official MacDonald and others said.
By early 2015, the Obama administration’s oft-publicized desire for securing an Iran deal “was politicizing all of the ongoing investigations,” Arnold said. He visited his former CPC Iran Unit colleagues that August while briefing Treasury and FBI officials on the Iran deal, reached a month earlier, as a counterproliferation expert at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“There was a fear that as negotiations went on, the White House wouldn’t want to get caught in a flap” created by a high-profile arrest or criminal case, Arnold said.
For agents and prosecutors, the headlines such an incident would create would antagonize not only their superiors but also a White House intent on proving to Tehran that it was committed to reaching an accord. On the flip side, it could also provide ammunition to the proposed deal’s many critics in Congress and elsewhere, who were claiming that Iran was aggressively continuing its clandestine procurement efforts even as it pledged good behavior.
But agents and prosecutors had an even more powerful reason to throttle back on Iran proliferation cases, according to Arnold and others.
Despite repeated requests, many were not given guidance or reassurances that the nuclear deal being negotiated in secret wouldn’t render unprosecutable new and ongoing cases, especially high-priority ones against nuclear traffickers, Arnold said. So agents had no confidence that their work would bear fruit.
“It was absolutely insane,” Arnold said. “People didn’t know what to do.”
“From the summer of 2015 on, there was a serious slowdown” as many counterproliferation officials shut down prosecutions and investigations voluntarily, Arnold said. “During that time, CPC wasn’t as aggressive as it should have been.”
The senior Obama administration official acknowledged that the twin sets of negotiations influenced the overall U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, especially the timing of individual investigations, prosecutions and international efforts to bring suspects to justice.
Such competing equities are unavoidable when high-level matters of diplomacy and geopolitics are under consideration, the official said. At those times, the White House must be guided by broader policy objectives, in this case de-escalating conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners.
“The White House wouldn’t be getting involved in saying yea or nay to particular arrests or cases or the like” that are the purview of the Justice Department, the administration official said. “It was not uncommon, though, that before we were going to undertake a law enforcement action that we thought would have foreign policy implications, we would alert folks at the White House so that there could be appropriate notice given to a foreign government. That happens.”
The former official also acknowledged the complaints by agents and prosecutors about cases being derailed but said they were unavoidable, and for the greater good.
“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” said the Obama official. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side.
“That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”
The Justice Department refused repeated requests to make available for interviews anyone related to the counterproliferation effort since the Iran deal, or to provide information about its role in the negotiations.
But in a statement to POLITICO, the Justice Department said the negotiations “did not affect the Department’s determination to investigate and charge worthy cases” and that it continued to “investigate, charge, and prosecute viable criminal cases … throughout negotiations of the JCPOA,” the formal term for the Iran deal. The Justice Department said it filed federal charges against 90 individuals and entities for violations of export controls and sanctions implicating Iran between 2014 and 2016, many under seal. It did not provide information about cases under seal for those or other years, making it impossible to place those numbers in the proper context.
Also, some of those cases involve the 21 Iranians let go in the swap. And because numerous individuals and entities often are charged in a single case, the statistics suggest a slowdown in counterproliferation efforts, according to current and former investigators and a POLITICO review of DOJ cases.
The timing of arrests, prosecutions and other investigative activities “may be informed by a variety of factors, including, especially in the national security context, collateral foreign policy consequences and impacts on American lives,” the Justice Department said. “Once an individual is charged, the Department works to ensure that the defendant, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, is held accountable. In seeking to apprehend defendants located abroad, however, we need assistance from other departments, agencies, and countries, and sometimes we cannot accomplish an arrest without it.”
Senior Obama administration officials also said the negotiations over the nuclear deal and, even more so the prisoner swap, required such extraordinary secrecy that only a tiny number of people were involved.
But as the nation’s top law enforcement official — and as a participant in the negotiations —Lynch failed in her responsibility as attorney general to protect the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigations and prosecutions from any political interference, some current and former officials believe.
Lynch, through an aide, declined to comment.
Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, raised the issue of Justice Department independence in 2015, when as a senator he asked incoming Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about whether she knew that she had “the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper?”
Earlier this year, this issue arose again when Trump fired then-Acting Attorney General Yates for doing just that and refusing to defend his executive order on immigration. By doing so, Trump had “placed the independence of the Justice Department at stake,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). “The attorney general is the people’s attorney, not the president’s attorney.”
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis also emphasized the importance of such a firewall recently when addressing Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered wiretaps of him or his campaign. "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice," Lewis said.
Many front-line current and former authorities disagree, and say the Iran deal and prisoner swap is a glaring example of that.
“A lot of people were furious; they had cases in the pipeline for months, in some cases years, and then, all of a sudden, they were gone — all because they were trying to sell the nuke deal,” a former Department of Commerce counterproliferation agent said. “Things fell apart after that. There are some really good cases out there and they are not going forward. They just let them die on the vine.”
A MASTERMIND EMERGES
Top Obama administration officials insist that the nuclear deal does not impede any of the broader U.S. efforts to go after Iran’s vast nuclear, missile and conventional weapons procurement efforts. Even so, many participants said the way forward is still sufficiently unclear that they can’t, or won’t, proceed.
Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.
Like many others, though, Albright said he is concerned that the counterproliferation effort has suffered significant and lasting damage, even if much of it involves classified efforts that may never become public.
“How much damage was done to the law enforcement side of this from us pulling back from these prosecutions?” he asked. “We have to pick up the pieces.”
Albright said that is especially the case in Boston, where he testified for the government against Cheng.
A few weeks after the prisoner swap, a judge sentenced Cheng to nine years in federal prison, even more than the prosecutors asked for, for his role in the conspiracy.
Cheng’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, accused federal prosecutors of unfair treatment, saying they threw the book at his client, a relatively small fish, while dropping all charges against the “mastermind,” Jamili.
Since the swap, federal authorities have learned more about Jamili, including intelligence tying him directly to Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a top Iranian nuclear official who supervised a key “commercial affairs” initiative at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, according to officials familiar with the case. Authorities believe Jamili was on the phone with Ahmadi-Roshan on Jan. 11, 2012, when unknown assailants on a motorbike killed him by attaching a bomb to his car. Tehran accused Israel’s Mossad in the attack.
But the federal agents’ efforts to pursue such leads, even in the U.S., have been complicated by the general uncertainty hanging over the broader counterproliferation effort, according to Arnold, the former FBI analyst.
“Part of the frustration is that there is strong evidence Iran is still conducting illegal procurement operations and the FBI can’t really go forward with these cases,” said Arnold, who has been closely following the Jamili-Cheng case as part of a Harvard research project into nuclear proliferation networks.
That frustration is especially acute when it comes to Jamili and the 13 other fugitives. When dropping the charges, the Justice Department said it was doing so in large part because it was unlikely that the U.S. would ever be successful in capturing or extraditing them anyway.
Some federal officials familiar with the cases scoffed at that, noting that they have lured many Iranians to places where they could be arrested, and that others were tripped up by sealed Interpol warrants while traveling. In Jamili’s case, said one, “he has traveled so we know there’s a chance we could get him.”
Despite decades of intensive investigations, Arnold said, U.S. officials still have a “major air gap” when it comes to understanding the intermediaries like Jamili involved in the Iranian networks — who are between foot soldiers like Cheng and government officials running the nuclear and weapons programs.
“All of a sudden, we’re no longer playing whack-a-mole, and we suddenly have this key player who is directly involved and has insider knowledge as to how this whole process works,” he said. “So to see him being traded away is frustrating.”
Iran Using U.S. Cash for Unprecedented Military Buildup
On May 3, 2017, Adam Kredo wrote in the Washington Free Beacon:
Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic's fighting force into an "offensive" juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill.
Iranian officials announced late last month that Iran's defense budget had increased by 145 percent under President Hassan Rouhani and that the military is moving forward with a massive restructuring effort aimed at making it "a forward moving force," according to regional reports.
Iranian leaders have stated since the Iran deal was enacted that they are using the massive amounts of cash released under the agreement to fund the purchase of new military equipment and other armaments. Iran also has pursued multi-million dollar arms deals with Russia since economic sanctions were nixed as part of the deal.
Leading members of Congress and U.S. officials working on the Iran portfolio suspect that at least a portion of the Obama administration's $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran has been used to fund and support terrorists in the Middle East.
The latest disclosure about Iran's military buildup is further fueling concerns that U.S. cash assets returned to the country—which were released with no strings attached by the Obama administration—are helping Iran pursue a more aggressive military stance against U.S. forces in the region.
"President Obama flat-out caved in to Iran when he handed them the disastrous nuclear deal and $1.7 billion in cash payments that could assist Iran's military," Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), an opponent of the nuclear deal, told the Washington Free Beacon. "So it's no surprise that the world's lead sponsor of terrorism would feel emboldened to become more aggressive in the region and flex its military muscle."
Iranian Brigadier General Kiumars Heidari announced the military buildup during Iran's annual Army Day. While the announcement did not grab many headlines in the Western media, national security insiders have been discussing the announcement for weeks, according to conversations with multiple sources.
Iran's goal is to turn its army into an "offensive" force, a major shift from its historic role as a support agent for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, Iran's extremely well funded primary fighting force.
Iran hopes to revamp its army from top to bottom, including improving logistical capabilities, weaponry, and other armaments.
Mahan Abedin, an Iran analyst writing in Middle East Eye, described the announcement as a major shift in Iranian military policy that would allow the Islamic Republic to intervene in the Persian Gulf region, where the U.S. military has a significant presence.
"This is a major policy announcement with far-reaching consequences for foreign policy and internal defense-related power dynamics," Abedin wrote. "If implemented properly, Heidari's proposed modernization policy would not only radically alter Iranian defense doctrine, but just as importantly, it would also reverse the army's subservient relationship to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)."
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, told the Free Beacon that it should come as no surprise that Iran is diverting the cash it received under the nuclear deal to its military industry.
The disclosure comes as "no surprise to anyone who studied Iran" and should have been anticipated by the Obama administration, which largely sought to downplay the importance of giving Iran billions in cash resources, Rubin said.
"First, there's history: Between 1998 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran more than doubled and the price of oil quintupled," Rubin explained. "Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested the bulk of it in its nuclear and missile programs. The person coordinating Iran's strategy? Hassan Rouhani who was at the time secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council."
"Obama and Kerry might as well have wired the money directly into the accounts of those seeking to enhance Iran's military, kill Sunnis, or sponsor terrorism," Rubin said.
One senior congressional source tracking the matter expressed concern about the safety of U.S. forces in the region, which already are routinely harassed by Iranian military personnel.
"This is certainly grounds for concern," the source said. "An Iranian military buildup coupled with an offensive posture is a threat to the United States and our allies. This also serves as an important reminder of why the Obama administration's cash infusion to Iran was so dangerous."
The cash windfall provided by the United States and European countries is "fungible and hence can be used for everything from sponsoring terror proxies to developing ballistic missiles," the source warned. "Congress will continue to take action to counter Iranian terrorism and ensure this regime never acquires a nuclear weapon."
Iran's military announcement has already sparked a renewed push on Capitol Hill to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran.
"The Iranians know that the party will end this fall, when Congress will pass bipartisan legislation that begins to roll back Iran's military growth," one senior congressional adviser working on the sanctions effort told the Free Beacon.
"The Obama administration avoided any serious action for years, and so Iran kept growing its arsenal and using it against our allies, against Syrian civilians, and increasingly against our military," said the source. "Now they're rushing to accomplish as much as they can before Congress and the Trump administration get around to reversing Obama's policies."
Revelations About Iranian Hacking During the Time of the Nuclear Deal
On June 7, 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported:
State Department officials determined that Iran hacked their emails and social media accounts during a particularly sensitive week for the nuclear deal in the fall of 2015, according to multiple sources familiar with the details of the cyber attack.
The attack took place within days of the deal overcoming opposition in Congress in late September that year. That same week, Iranian officials and negotiators for the United States and other world powers were beginning the process of hashing out a series of agreements allowing Tehran to meet previously determined implementation deadlines.
Critics regard these agreements as "secret side deals" and "loopholes" initially disclosed only to Congress.
Sources familiar with the details of the attack said it sent shockwaves through the State Department and the private-contractor community working on Iran-related issues.
It is unclear whether top officials at the State Department negotiating the Iran deal knew about the hack or if their personal or professional email accounts were compromised. Sources familiar with the attack believed top officials at State were deeply concerned about the hack and that those senior leaders did not have any of their email or social media accounts compromised in this particular incident.
Wendy Sherman, who served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs for several years during the Obama administration and was the lead U.S. negotiator of the nuclear deal with Iran, could not be reached for comment....
At least four State Department officials in the Bureau of Near East Affairs and a senior State Department adviser on digital media and cyber-security were involved in trying to contain the hack, according to an email dated September 24, 2015, and multiple interviews with sources familiar with the attack.
The Obama administration kept quiet about the cyber-attack and never publicly acknowledged concerns the attack created at State, related agencies, and within the private contractor community that supports their work.
Critics of the nuclear deal said the Obama administration did not publicly disclose the cyber-attack's impact out of fear it could undermine support right after the pact had overcome political opposition and cleared a critical Congressional hurdle.
The hacking of email addresses belonging to the State Department officials and outside contractors began three days after the congressional review period for the deal ended Sept. 17, according to sources familiar with the details of the attack and the internal State Department email.
In the week leading up to that deadline, Senate Democrats blocked several attempts to pass a GOP-led resolution to disapprove of the nuclear deal. The resolution of disapproval needed 60 votes to pass but the most it garnered was 58....
State Department alerts outside contractors of cyber-attack
State Department officials in the Office of Iranian Affairs on Sept. 24, 2015 sent an email to dozens of outside contractors. The email alerted the contractors that a cyber-attack had occurred and urged them not to open any email from a group of five State Department officials that did not come directly from their official state.gov accounts.
"We have received evidence that social media and email accounts are being compromised or subject to phishing messages," the email, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, states. "Please be advised that you should not open any link, download or open an attachment from any e-mail message that uses our names but is not directly from one of our official state.gov accounts."
"We appreciate learning of any attempts to use our names or affiliations in this way," stated the email. Shervin Hadjilou, the public diplomacy officer in the Office of Iranian Affairs, sent the email and cc'd four other State Department officials who deal with Iran issues, including one cyber-security expert.
Two sources familiar with the details of the hack said the State Department and outside contractors determined that Iranian officials were the perpetrators. The hack, which began Sept. 21, had compromised at least two State Department officials' government email accounts before they regained control of them, as well as private email addresses and Facebook and other social media accounts, the source said.
"They had access to everything in those email accounts," the source said. "Everyone in the [State Department Iranian Affairs] community was very upset—it was a major problem."
The hack also stood out because cyber-warfare between Iran and the United States, which had been the weapon of choice between the countries for years, had cooled considerably in 2015 during the nuclear negotiations in what cyber-security experts have described as a limited détente.
Since Iran discovered the Stuxnet virus—a cyber-worm the United States and Israel planted to degrade Iran's nuclear capabilities—in 2011, the countries have been engaged in escalating cyber warfare as Tehran's cyber capabilities become increasingly sophisticated and destructive.
Since 2011 Iran has attacked U.S. banks and Israel's electric grid. In 2012, Iranian hackers brought down Saudi-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, erasing information on nearly 30,000 of the company's work stations and replacing it with a burning American flag.
Cyber-security experts have long believed that Russia helped Iran quickly build up its cyberweaponry in response to Stuxnet. A team of computer-security experts at TrapX, a Silicon Valley security firm that helps protect top military contractors from hackers, said in April they officially confirmed that Iranians were using a cyber "tool set" developed by Russians.
Tom Kellerman, a TrapX investor who also served on a commission advising the Obama administration on cyber-security, said Iranian cyberwarfare has dramatically improved over the last two or three years in large part due to Russian technical assistance.
"Much like you see the alliance between Syria, Iran, and Russia, the alliance doesn't just relate to the distribution of kinetic weapons," he said, but extends into cyberwarfare.
Uproar among private contracting community over cyber-attack
In the late September 2015 hack, at least two State Department officials and a handful of outside contractors lost control of access to their email and social media accounts, which were automatically forwarding emails to work and personal contacts. This spread the hack to a wider network of victims.
The private-contracting community involved in State Department Iran programs—approximately 40 private firms, some of which are based in Washington and others located throughout the United States—were outraged by the infiltration.
"They were saying ‘We're mad—we're angry,'" the source recalled. "We all got compromised."
Eric Novotny, who served as a senior adviser for digital media and cyber security at the State Department at the time, was involved in trying to shut down the hack and help affected officials and private contractors regain control of their accounts. Novotny was one of the four government officials copied on Hadjilou's Sept. 24 email.
Critics: Obama administration's silence on hacking was needed to secure nuke deal
Critics of the Obama administration's handling of the Iran nuclear deal argue that the State Department stayed silent about the hack because acknowledging it could have publicly undermined the pact right after it became official.
"Within hours of the Iran deal being greenlighted, Iran was already conducting cyberattacks against the very State Department that ensured passage of the [nuclear deal]," said Michael Pregent, a senior Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute. "Acknowledging a cyberattack after the [nuclear deal] was greenlighted would be something that would immediately signal that it is a bad deal—that these are nefarious actors."
Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Iran's hacking of State Department personnel at such a critical period is "just one of many of Iran's malign activities that continued and the State Department essentially ignored while the Obama administration was working out the fine points of the nuclear deal."
"The Obama administration didn't acknowledge it publicly out of fear that public outrage could threaten the nuclear deal," he said.
In early November 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guard military had hacked email and social-media accounts of Obama administration officials.
Yet that report wrongly tied the beginning of the uptick in Iranian cyberattacks to the arrest October 29, 2015 of Siamak Namazi, a businessman and Iranian-American scholar who has pushed for democratic reforms. Namazi and his elderly father remain imprisoned in Iran and face a 10-year sentence on espionage charges.
The Journal report also did not indicate that the attacks had occurred more than a month earlier, within three days of the end of the congressional review period, nor did it indicate any specific individual targeted nor how officials and contractors reacted to it.
The Sept. 24 email obtained by the Free Beacon shows the Iranian hacking of State Department officials occurred much earlier—the weekend after Republicans in Congress failed to push through a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear pact, effectively sealing the foreign policy win for Obama.
The late September time period was particularly important for negotiating critical details of the nuclear deal's implementation, what critics, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have labeled "secret side deals" allowing Iran to evade some restrictions in the nuclear agreement in order to meet its deadline for sanctions relief.
Among other non-public details of the pact, the side agreements involved the controversial exchange of American prisoners held in Iran for $1.7 billion in cash payments.
Infiltrating State Department emails and internal communications about where the United States stood on a number of sensitive issues could have given the Iranians an important negotiating advantage, according to David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
"The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] had a lot of loose language at the time and the question was whether the U.S. was going to accept it," he told the Free Beacon, referring to the weeks immediately following the Congressional Review Period, which ended Sept. 17, and Iran's own review process, which ended Oct. 15.
"It would be to Iran's great benefit to know where the U.S. would be" on a number of these issues dealing with the possible military dimensions of the Iran nuclear program, he said. "If they could tell the U.S. was going to punt, they could jerk around the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] a bit."
"That's essentially what happened with the IAEA," he added.
The IAEA is charged with verifying and monitoring Iran's commitments under the nuclear agreement.
According to Albright, the IAEA ultimately accepted far less access to nuclear sites than it originally wanted. The United States and other world powers also accepted other concessions involving "loopholes" allowing Iran to exceed uranium enrichment and heavy water limits for a certain time period in order for Iran to meet implementation deadlines, he said.
"The IAEA didn't know much at all and had to write a report [in December 2015] that it was content in knowing so little," he said.
Others who credit Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard with the cyber-attack say it may not have focused entirely on gaining leverage in the negotiations but simply demonstrating a resistance to the deal among hardline factions in the country.
"Iran has two personalities, and I think you were seeing the other personality shine through," Kellerman said of the hack during a critical phase of the nuclear deal.
Hack used common spear-phishing technique
Sources said the September 2015 hacking incidents compromised email accounts by sending spear-phishing messages, or efforts to gain unauthorized access to confidential data by impersonating close contacts.
The phishing emails targeted both State Department and private contractors' personal email and social media accounts, including Facebook, shutting down the users' access and sending out emails to some of the hacked individuals contacts and forwarding other information to unfamiliar emails with Persian-sounding names, two sources told the Free Beacon.
Samuel Bucholtz, co-founder of Casaba, a cyber-security firm that conducts test-hacking for Fortune 500 companies, said the hackers were likely trying to gain access to contacts and emails. The hackers also may have tried to install malware that would provide greater access to information held on computers or the entire computer network of the organizations, he said.
"If it's a phishing account that installs malware on your machine, then they have access to all the information on your machine," he said. "Then they start using that foothold to start exploring access throughout the entire organization."
Obama Administration Hid Intelligence on Iranian Militants in Syria to Push Nuclear Deal
On August 30, 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported:
The Obama administration likely hid information about Iran illicitly ferrying militants into Syria on commercial aircraft in order to promote the landmark nuclear deal and foster multi-billion dollar business deals with Tehran's state-controlled airline sector, according to lawmakers and other sources familiar with the matter.
The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed last week that congressional leaders are calling for an investigation into Iran for using its state-controlled air carrier, Iran Air, to ferry militant fighters into Syria, where they are taking up arms in defense of embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
Photographs provided to Congress show Iran using Iran Air to ferry these soldiers between 2016 and 2017, in part when the Obama administration removed sanctions on Iran Air and promoted multi-billion dollars sales between the carrier and aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which is seeking to provide Iran Air with a fleet of new planes that many suspect will be used to carry terrorist fighters and weapons into regional hotspots.
This behavior violates international laws governing the nuclear deal and has now led lawmakers and others to accuse the Obama administration of downplaying Iran's illicit activity in order to promote the nuclear deal and ensure Tehran receives a new commercial fleet.
Multiple senior Obama administration officials, including former secretary of state John Kerry, traveled the globe to promote trade with Iranian companies, including Iran Air, at the same time Iran was found to be ferrying militants into Syria. Lawmakers and others suspect the Obama administration either hid or downplayed this information in order to preserve the nuclear deal.
"The Obama administration lifted sanctions against Iran Air as a political concession during nuclear negotiations with Iran, not because of any change in its activity," Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), one of the lawmakers calling for an investigation into Iran's use of commercial aircraft for military purposes, told the Free Beacon.
"Using social media and public flight tracking websites, any person with a computer can document Iranian military transports to Syria on commercial jets," Roskam said. "The Obama administration undoubtedly knew Iranian airliners were being used to fuel Assad's atrocities in Syria, but the administration officials who were globetrotting as Tehran's chamber of commerce trying to shore up the nuclear deal didn't care."
"Iran Air continues to support the Iran-Assad war machine to this day, and the Trump administration must hold the airline accountable and work to stop them," the lawmaker said.
Roskam and a delegation of other Republican congressmen petitioned the Trump Treasury Department last week to investigate photographic evidence showing Iran using Iran Air to ferry militants into Syria.
"Iran's use of commercial aircraft for military purposes violates international agreements as well as Iranian commitments under the JCPOA," or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the lawmakers wrote, according to a letter first obtained by the Free Beacon. "We believe these photos mandate a thorough investigation of these practices and a comprehensive review of Iran's illicit use of commercial aircraft."
The lawmakers demand the Trump administration freeze all licenses that would permit the deal between Boeing and Iran Air to move forward.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a vocal opponent of the Iran deal who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration ignored evidence of Iran's illicit military activity in a bid to appease Tehran and forward the nuclear agreement.
"As the Obama administration was shipping palettes of cash to Iran, the mullahs were sending militants to wage jihad in Syria," DeSantis said. "The Obama administration turned a blind eye to this and other transgressions because it was so intent on delivering major sanctions relief to the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian government."
The Treasury Department did not respond to multiple Free Beacon requests for comment on the matter.
The Treasury Department has vowed in the past to consider and investigate any new evidence revealing Iran's illicit use of commercial aircraft, but it remains unclear if U.S. officials are actually following through on this promise.
Administration insiders have expressed confusion over the matter, saying they are unsure where Trump officials stand on scrapping the nuclear agreement.
Multiple proponents of ending the deal were recently removed from the White House's National Security Council and it appears that those officials supporting the deal currently are now the majority voice. This includes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Administration insiders say the Obama administration's aggressive efforts to promote trade with Iran and lay the groundwork for massive deals such as that formed with Boeing placed the current administration in a complicated position.
Boeing says the deal would create scores of U.S. jobs, but those opposing the deal say American workers should not be aiding Iran's illicit activity.
"The Obama administration actively politicized and downplayed intelligence about Iran to preserve the deal," said one veteran congressional adviser working on the issue. "They had State remove references to Iranian terrorism, had Justice ignore Iranian sanctions-busters and proliferated, and even had Energy buy off Iranian deal violations. So of course they had Treasury look the other way while the Iranians were facilitating Assad's mass slaughter."
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, said champions of the Iran deal had knowledge of Iran's illicit behavior, but downplayed this information to push the nuclear agreement forward.
"The Boeing deal is where corruption meets national security. One of the biggest proponents of the Iran deal was Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador whom the Obama administration brought in to assuage Congress and re-up its talking points in the media," Rubin said. "Pickering never acknowledged, however—even to Congress—that at the time he had a lucrative consulting gig with Boeing in order to enable that company to profit off any Iran deal."
Iran is seeking to purchase from Boeing a fleet much larger than its domestic needs require, another sign that points to the regime's desire to use these commercial aircraft for military purposes, Rubin said.
"What the heck did the Obama team think Iran would do with its Boeings? If they tallied up Iran's annual air travel with the capacity offered by Boeing, they'd find that Iran was purchasing planes representing triple what Iran needed for its civilian transport," Rubin said. "Frankly, the Boeing deal should have resulted in as many red flags as if Iran said it wanted to purchase high explosives and rocket engines. But, national security and reality were far down Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry's lists of priorities."
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