The president, for proponents of the Iran deal, gave a deeply disturbing news conference that suggested he does not know what is in the deal, does not have a grasp of the factual record and/or thinks he can get away with huge misrepresentations. And, to boot, he confirmed many of the serious criticisms of the deal. I imagine opponents of the deal will have a field day with these and other statements:
1. “With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program, a nuclear weapons program.” Not true. After eight years, the precise restrictions end. Oops, he says it himself: “And Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years.”
2. “With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences, nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.” False again. The deal spells out laborious inspection procedures that include a 24-day notification period. Parchin, for example, is not even included. To snap back sanctions, a committee including Russia and China must agree by a majority.
3. “[E]ven with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran: its support of terrorism, its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.” Then why sunset the arms and missile embargoes?
4. Contrary to Secretary of State John Kerry’s representations, he confirms there is a sunset: “We will have installed an unprecedented inspections regime. And that will remain in place not just for 10 years, but for example on the stockpiles, will continue to 15 years.”
5. “And my hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave. But we’re not counting on it.” This is the most bizarre comment of all. What basis is there for hope? And if we don’t count on it, we are giving an aggressive regime access to conventional arms, billions of dollars and an industrial-size nuclear infrastructure.
6. “So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.” Well, maybe that is the most outrageous confession.
7. “Will we seek to gain more cooperation from them in resolving issues like Syria or what’s happening in Iraq, to stop encouraging Houthis in Yemen, we’ll continue to engage with them.” Really? Won’t we be giving them billions to support these proxies?
8. “[I]n fact, having resolved the nuclear issue, we will be in a stronger position to work with Israel, work with the Gulf countries, work with our other partners, work with the Europeans to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran around those issues that remain of concern.” Actually, they are all traumatized and it will takes years to regain their trust.
9. “And for all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative.” This is categorically false. Others have suggested increased sanctions, a more credible threat of force and inflicting damage on Iran’s surrogates.
10. “If 99 percent of the world’s community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say ‘this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb,’ and you are arguing either that it does not or that even if it does, it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present. And I haven’t heard that.” Actually, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other allies in the region don’t believe this at all.
11. “[T]here is nobody who thinks that Iran would or could ever accept that, and the international community does not take the view that Iran can’t have a peaceful nuclear program. They agree with us that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.” Yes, but they say a better deal was possible if he was not so desperate and had employed greater pressure.
12. “And so we don’t have diplomatic leverage to eliminate every vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran. What we do have the leverage to do is to make sure that they don’t have a weapon.” The question was whether we had leverage to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity. We did and he did not use that leverage.
13. “[I]f the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so.” This is the “critics want war” argument and it is not true. See No. 9.
14. “As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such — this is not something you hide in a closet.” This is part of a long and rambling answer on why we gave Iran 24 days notice. He concedes, “This is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime, by far, that has ever been negotiated.” But that was not what he promised — go anywhere and anytime was what he said would be obtained.
15. “The only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy.” That is precisely correct which is why he blew it by letting them keep their nuclear infrastructure.
16. “So the issue of the arms embargo and ballistic missiles is a real concern to us, has been of real concern to us, and it is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from sending weapons to Hezbollah, for example, or sending weapons to the Houthis in Yemen that accelerate a civil war there.” Again, this is part of a long and rambling answer. This was never supposed to be on the table and we lose any leverage if we lift the embargo.
17. “The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.” In fact, he abandoned those people for the sake of a terrible deal. No amount of indignation changes that.