Files Show Iran's Program To Build Nuclear Weapons, Netanyahu Says


Steve Inskeep talks to Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer about whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu says Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

What You Need To Know About The Iran Nuclear Deal


President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a ceremony to mark Iran's National Nuclear Day, dedicated to the country's achievements in nuclear technology, in Tehran on April 9.  Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP

President Trump says he will announce Tuesday whether he is going to keep the U.S. in the Iran nuclear deal. This comes after Trump has allowed the deal to stay in place through the first 15 months of his presidency while frequently criticizing it and threatening to pull the U.S. out of it.

In recent weeks, foreign leaders including France's Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have come to Washington to try to persuade Trump to stick with the deal.

If Trump pulls out, it would be another step he has taken to nullify a move by his predecessor, Barack Obama. It would set off an unpredictable series of events and reactions from Iran and several U.S. allies.

The deal, signed in 2015, placed strict limits on Iran's nuclear program to keep it from developing nuclear weapons. It required ongoing inspections and the destruction of nuclear equipment. In return, Iran got relief from some economic sanctions.

Six nations signed the deal with Iran — the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia. It was approved by the U.N. Security Council. (It's titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.)

Why is this coming up now?

Over the years, Congress has passed numerous sanctions against Iran but given the president the power to waive their enforcement. They come up for waiver or renewal every few months, and the next deadline is Saturday. Under its part of the bargain in the deal, the U.S. has been waiving some of the sanctions — that is, kept them from being enforced — repeatedly. Trump has threatened to stop issuing the waivers, meaning they would be reimposed on Iran.

That would place the U.S. in breach of the agreement. The sanctions coming up for continued waivers this week are key. If they were reimposed, they would penalize countries or companies buying oil from Iran by making it hard for them to do business with U.S. banks and markets.

What are the arguments for and against the deal?

Trump and opponents to the deal say it is flawed because it gives Iran access to billions of dollars but does not address Iran's support for groups the U.S. considers terrorists, like Hamas and Hezbollah. They note it also doesn't curb Iran's development of ballistic missiles and that the deal phases out by 2030. They say Iran has lied about its nuclear program in the past.

Deal supporters say it keeps Iran from building nuclear weapons and that will make it easier to deal with Iran's other behavior around the region — better to have an Iran without nukes than with them, in other words. They say evidence that Iran has lied in the past makes it all the more necessary to have a deal that keeps inspectors on the ground in Iran. They say ending the deal could prompt Iran to develop nuclear weapons and even set off a nuclear race in the Mideast.

The International Atomic Energy Commission, which enforces the deal, and U.S. officials have said Iran is complying with its terms.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department Monday. Johnson argued for the Trump administration to continue to be a party to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. "The wisest course would be to improve the handcuffs rather than break them," Johnson wrote in the New York Times.  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If the U.S. pulls out of the deal, how can it expect Iran to react?

Iran has been issuing warnings about vague but dire consequences. It would have a few choices. First, Iran could wait and let the U.S. take some blame from around the world for violating an agreement it signed just three years ago.

It could in the meantime lobby other countries — some of its biggest oil consumers are in Asia — to continue buying Iranian oil by evading the new U.S. sanctions. In that case, Iran might promise to keep the deal and continue to limit its nuclear program even though the U.S. has pulled out.

But it could also pull out of the deal itself, expel the inspectors and start ramping up its nuclear program. That could put the region on a short fuse, opening the possibility that Israel might strike at Iranian nuclear facilities with its air force. Iranian leaders have threatened Israel repeatedly over the years.

How might the other countries in the deal respond?

This could be key. Led by France, which had taken a hard line against Iran during the talks, the other countries in the deal have asked Trump to stay in it and let them help him put pressure on Iran to stop missile tests and other destabilizing behavior around the region.

If the U.S. pulls out, other countries involved in the deal might try to talk Iran into sticking to the agreement without the U.S. in it, promising Iran that the rest of the world will keep buying its oil and investing in its economy. That would isolate the U.S.

But it would be difficult and risky for companies and countries doing business with Iran. They might get cut off from doing business with the U.S.

Is there a middle ground?

Possibly. Trump could announce that he is pulling out of the deal and reimposing the sanctions. But economic sanctions are complicated and the details have to be spelled out in U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations. In the past, the oil sanctions still allowed countries to continue buying oil, with some limits, from Iran. And certain types of industries can be exempted from sanctions.

If that's something Trump has in mind, it might soften the blow for U.S. allies — and for Iran.


Although Chomsky’s Perilous Power was written in 2007, nothing has changed with U.S. Israel relationship toward Iran.  Iran broke ranks with the United States in 1979, and this is a crime for which it has [still] to be punished.  And it goes way beyond rational state interests.  As with Cuba, it's the Mafia mentality: You can’t allow disobedience to exist; it's too dangerous because other people might get the idea that they can be disobedient as well.  So Iran's going to have to be punished for that act of disobedience.

Now the United States [allying with Israel] is try very hard to isolate Iran and to carry out subversion, which is maybe possible in that country.  It's a complex, ethically mixed society with a very repressive government.  Maybe the United States can stimulate some kind of internal uprising.  And of course they want to isolate it economically.


James Risen in State Of War: The Secret History Of The CIA And The Bush Administration (2006) disproves Netanyahu’s rant.  Risen state that in 2004 and 2005, President Bush and his [Neocons] aides were making the case that Iran was moving rapidly to develop nuclear weapons, the American intelligence community found itself unable to provide the evidence to back up the administration’s public arguments.  On the heels of the CIA’s failure to provide accurate prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the agency was one again clueless in the Middle East.  In the spring of 2005, in the wake of the CIA’s Iranian disaster, Porter Goss, the CIA’s new director, told President Bush in a White House briefing that the CIA really didn’t know how close Iran was to becoming a nuclear power. 

The Bush administration has never publicly disclosed the extent to which it is now operating in the blind on Iran.  But deep in the bowels of the CIA, someone must be nervously, but very privately, wondering: Whatever happened to those nuclear blueprints we gave to the Iranians?

The story dates back to the Clinton administration and February 2000, when one frightened Russian scientist walked Vienna’s winter streets.  Enveloped by the February cold, he dodged the bright red and white Strassenbahn, the quaint electric tramcars that roll in slow circuits around the city, while he debated whether to go through with his secret mission.

I’m not a spy, he thought to himself.  I’m a scientist.  What am I doing here?  They could have at least given me good directions.

As he stumbled along into Vienna’s north end, in the unglamorous neighborhood surrounding the Praterstern U-Bahn station, the same question pounded in his brain again and again, but he couldn’t find an answer.

 What was the CIA thinking?

The Russian had good reason to be afraid.  He was walking around Vienna with blueprints for a nuclear.

He still couldn’t believe the orders he had received from CIA headquarters.  The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them—or simple give them—to the Iranian representatives to the IAEA.  With the Russian doing Langley’s bidding, the CIA appeared to be about to help Iran leapfrog one of the last remaining engineering hurdles blocking its path to a nuclear weapon.  The dangerous irony was not lost on the Russian—the IAEA was an international organization created to restrict the spread of nuclear technology.  The IAEA’s Vienna headquarters, inside the United Nation’s sprawling concrete compound, a jumble of geometric-shaped assembled like a Christmas pile of children’s toys along the Danube River just outside the city center, was the lading forum for international debate over the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology.  It was the place where the United States came to level charges against rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea over their clandestine nuclear programs.  IAEA experts traveled the world to try to police the use of nuclear power, to make certain that peaceful energy-generation programs weren’t providing cover for the clandestine development of nuclear weapons.  In 2005, the IAEA and its chief, Mohamed El Baradei, would win the Nobel peace Prize for their counter proliferation efforts.

But in 2000, the CIA was coming to Vienna to stage an operation that could help one of the most dangerous regimes in the world obtain a nuclear weapon.

He was a nuclear engineer who had defected to the United States years earlier and quietly settled in America.  He went through the CIA’s defector resettlement program and endure long debriefings in which CIA experts and scientists from the national laboratories tried to drain him of everything he knew about the  of Russia’s nuclear weapons program.  Like many other Russian defectors before him, his tiresome complaints about money and status had gained him a reputation within the CIA of being difficult to manage.  But he was too valuable for the CIA to toss away.

Despite their disputes, the CIA had arranged for the Russians to become an American citizen and had kept him on the payroll, to the tune of $5,000 a month.  It really did seem like easy money, with few strings attached.  Life was good.  He was happy to be on the CIA gravy train.

Until now.  The CIA was placing him on the front line of a plan that seemed to be completely at odds with the interests of the United States, and it had taken a lot of persuading by his CIA case officer to convince him to go through with what appeared to be a rogue operation.

The case officer worked hard to convince him—even though the officer had doubts about the plan as well.  As he was sweet-talking the Russian into flying to Vienna, the case officer wondered whether he was being set up by CIA management, in some dark political or bureaucratic game that he didn’t understand.  Was he involved in an illegal covert action?  Should he expect to be hauled before a congressional committee and grilled because he was the officer who helped give nuclear blueprints to Iran?  The code name for this operation was MERLIN; to the officer, that seemed like a wry tip-off that nothing about this program was what it appeared to be.  He did his best to hide his concerns from his Russian agent.

The Russian’s assignment from the CIA was to pose as an unemployed and greedy scientist who was willing to sell his soul—and the secrets of the atomic bomb—to the highest bidder.  By hook or by crook, the CIA told him, he was to get the nuclear blueprints to the Iranians.  They would quickly recognize their value and rush them back to their superiors in Tehran.

The Russian reluctantly agreed, but he was still clearly suspicious of the CIA’s motives.

The end of the Cold War meant the end of regular paychecks for Russian nuclear scientist, and there was a real danger that Russian technical expertise would spread like a virus to the totalitarian states of the third world.  Fortunately, at just the right moment, two centrist American senators, one Democrat and one Republican, saw the danger and came up with one of the most farsighted U.S. foreign relations programs since the Marshall Plan.  In 1991, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar crafted legislation that helped prevent a massive drain of nuclear technology out of the former Soviet Union.  Known as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the legislation created joint U.S.-Russian programs to deactivate thousands of nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union, and helped rid the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus of the nuclear weapons they had inherited at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Equally important was Nunn-Lugar’s impact on the lives of Russian scientists.

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Comment by mary gravitt on May 9, 2018 at 12:44pm

The US has only one ally in the Middle East: Israel.  The Saudis are merely customers.  Trump is playing on and interfering in cultural matters in the Middle East Sunni against Shea.  Trump likes to accuse Iran of interfering in Middle East affairs.  But isn't Iran located in the Middle East.  Assad is a Shea and Iran is Shea dominant.  Therefore Syria is Iran's natural ally.  Sheldon Adelson's money has brought on more anti-Semetism via Trump than has occurred in the last thousand years.

Truth when thrown down to the ground will rise.  Soon the US will be involved in a war that we cannot win because of lies and hubris.


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