Takeaways from Netanyahu's Iran remarks

CNN analyst Josh Rogin breaks down the main takeaways from Israeli Prime Minter Benjamin Netanyahu's press conference on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Posted: May 1, 2018 2:22 PM
Updated: May 1, 2018 2:26 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has evidence Iranian officials were "brazenly lying" when they said Iran wasn't pursuing nuclear weapons and that the Islamic republic is keeping an "atomic archive" at a secret compound.

"Tonight, I'm here to tell you one thing: Iran lied -- big time," Netanyahu said late Monday during an address from the Israel Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv.

Calling it one of the greatest achievements in the history of Israeli intelligence, Netanyahu displayed what he said were files that demonstrate Iran planned to continue pursuing a nuclear weapons program despite the 2015 deal it brokered with the international community.

Speaking in English, Netanyahu accused Iran of ramping up efforts to obscure the files in 2015 and moving them to a secret location in Tehran last year.

The files were kept in massive vaults inside an "innocent-looking compound" in Shorabad District, the Prime Minister said. The 100,000 files contain, among other things, blueprints, charts, photos, videos and presentations dealing with nuclear weaponry, he said.

"Iran planned at the highest level to continue work related to nuclear weapons under different guises and using the same personnel," he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States has known about the material "for a while" and believes the documents are authentic.

"There are thousands of new documents and new information. We're still going through it. There's still a lot of work to do to figure out precisely the scope and scale of it," he told reporters while flying back to the United States from the Middle East.

In a separate statement, Pompeo said in light of the information he'd be consulting with European allies and other nations on the best way forward.

"Now that the world knows Iran has lied and is still lying, it is time to revisit the question of whether Iran can be trusted to enrich or control any nuclear material," he said.

Iranian, US reaction

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi called Netanyahu's comments "childish" and "laughable."

"What we saw from Netanyahu was a childish play which we had also witnessed in previous years and also from the MKO terrorist group," Araghchi said, as quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Referring to claims by Netanyahu that it has 55,000 documents from a facility in Iran is "ridiculous" because Iran would never harbor such important documents in an abandoned area, Araghci said.

The White House issued a statement Monday night, saying: "The United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully. This information provides new and compelling details about Iran's efforts to develop missile-deliverable nuclear weapons.

"These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people. The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbors and others. Iran must never have nuclear weapons."

White House: 'Clerical error' altered Iran statement

US President Donald Trump applauded the announcement and said it shows he was "100% right" in criticizing the 2015 pact agreed to by former US President Barack Obama, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to reduce its uranium stockpile in return for international sanctions being lifted.

"In seven years, that deal will have expired and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons. That is not acceptable. Seven years is tomorrow," Trump said.

Asked what might come of the deal, Trump responded, "We'll see what happens." Even if he does pull out of the deal, he said, "that doesn't mean I wouldn't negotiate a new agreement."

Trump has until May 12 to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Asked if pulling out of the agreement would damage US relations with Europe, Pompeo said they are "working diligently to fix this thing."

Before Netanyahu's address, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, "The boy who can't stop crying wolf is at it again. Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA. You can only fool some of the people so many times." Zarif was referring to a drawing of a bomb that Netanyahu referred to during a September 2012 appearance before the UN General Assembly about Iran's nuclear program.

After Netanyahu spoke, Zarif tweeted, "Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the (International Atomic Energy Agency) to 'nix' the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump's impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover."

Project Amad

Netanyahu alleged that Iran for years operated a secret project known as Amad, which sought to produce five nuclear warheads, each with an explosive yield equivalent to five of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. The nation stored material related to Project Amad to use later, he said.

Iran lied about Project Amad, he said, when one of the conditions of the nuclear deal was that Iran had to "come clean" about its activities related to nuclear arms.

Netanyahu said during his address that Zarif -- along with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, and President Hassan Rouhani -- had all previously lied when they said Iran had no interest in nuclear weapons.

Rouhani: US breached nuke deal

The Prime Minister vehemently opposes the deal and said Monday it provides Iran "a clear path to an atomic arsenal" by allowing for unlimited uranium enrichment within a few years, and by failing to address the country's development of ballistic missiles and its advanced work on weaponization.

Netanyahu promises to share intelligence

Hours after showing the purported evidence of Iran's deception, Netanyahu spoke with the leaders of France, Germany and Russia, promising to share the intelligence he publicized, according to the Prime Minister's office.

Netanyahu told the leaders of France and Germany that he would send professional teams to brief them on the material Israel revealed. The Prime Minister intends to speak to the leaders of Great Britain and China "forthwith," his office said.

Germany will analyze and evaluate the information presented by Israel concerning Iran's nuclear program, a government spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the agreement established a "landmark and robust" system for monitoring compliance with the deal -- and will continue to be necessary.

The UK has "never been naïve about Iran and its nuclear intentions," according to a statement issued by a UK government spokesperson.

"That is why the IAEA inspection regime agreed as part of the Iran nuclear deal is one of the most extensive and robust in the history of international nuclear accords. It remains a vitally important way of independently verifying that Iran is adhering to the deal and that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful," the UK spokesperson said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin remains committed to the Iran nuclear deal, telling Netanyahu in a Monday phone call that it must be "strictly observed by all parties," the Kremlin said.

The White House said Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday to "address developments concerning Syria and Iran." Details were not provided.

In his presentation, Netanyahu dramatically pulled aside dark sheets to reveal shelves holding books he said were copies of 55,000 pages of Iranian nuclear information and a display of discs he said were 55,000 files.

He didn't provide details about how Israel obtained the purported documents.

"You may want to know where are the originals," he said. "Well, I can say now they're in a very safe place."

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