World News

Trump Overreaches in Critique of Iran Deal

Posted May 8, 2018 7:56 p.m. EDT

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday and delivered familiar — and not entirely accurate — broadsides against the diplomatic agreement he has long called “the worst deal ever.”

Here are some of his claims, fact-checked:

“In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium.”

— This is misleading.

The nuclear agreement does allow Iran to enrich uranium, but it limited enrichment capacity to less than one bomb’s worth for 15 years.

Iran also gave up about 97 percent of its existing stockpile and two-thirds of its centrifuges. Under the deal, it can use no more than 5,060 first-generation centrifuges for a decade — which The New York Times’ Max Fisher has described as “so few, and such old models, and under constant monitoring, that it poses relatively little threat.”

More advanced centrifuges were placed under monitored storage or can be used only for limited research purposes approved by the other signers of the deal.

The deal also sought to prevent the possibility of a plutonium bomb by rendering an existing reactor inoperable and prohibiting the construction of other heavy-water reactors for 15 years. Tehran also pledged to never produce weapons-grade plutonium.

“This disastrous deal gave this regime — and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars, some of it in actual cash.”

— This is misleading.

Trump has made a version of this claim at least a dozen times since taking office, and he made it dozens of times while running for president.

The nuclear deal released about $100 billion — not $150 billion as he frequently claims — in previously frozen Iranian assets. In other words, the money already belonged to Iran and did not come out of the pockets of American taxpayers, as some of Trump’s supporters have erroneously inferred from the president’s claims.

Much of the amount is also tied up in debt obligations, and estimates for the actual amount available to Iran range from $35 billion to $65 billion.

And as The Times has previously reported, the cash payment Trump also mentioned refers to a separate matter.

The Obama administration did transfer $1.7 billion to Iran, but Trump’s statement requires more context. The money — delivered in cash, some on a plane — was payment for a decadeslong dispute and was indirectly linked to the nuclear deal.

Before the 1979 revolution, Iran’s shah had paid $400 million for U.S. military goods but, after he was overthrown, they were never delivered. The clerics who seized control demanded the money back, but the United States refused. The additional $1.3 billion is interest accumulated over 35 years. An initial reimbursement was released after the Iran deal was implemented and to help secure the release of American hostages.

“Even if Iran fully complies, the regime can still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time.”

— This requires context.

“Breakout” refers to the time it would take Iran to produce enough fuel for one weapon, and the agreement increased that time to at least a year from an estimated two to three months.

Since the deal limits Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile to less than one bomb’s worth for 15 years, Iran would not be “on the verge of a nuclear breakout” until 2030.

It is also worth noting that the agreement prohibits Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons permanently. “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons,” the first paragraph of the deal reads.

“In the years since the deal was reached, Iran’s military budget has grown by almost 40 percent.”

— This is exaggerated.

The Iran deal was reached in June 2015, but went into effect in early 2016, when the United States and European nations lifted sanctions. Since then, Iran’s military spending has increased by about 30 percent, from $10.8 billion in 2015 to $14.1 billion last year, adjusted for inflation, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that Iran’s defense budget was about 3 percent of the gross domestic product, or $15 billion, in 2015 and about 4 percent of GDP, or $20 billion, in 2018.

“Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie. Last week, Israel published intelligence documents — long concealed by Iran — conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.”

— This requires context.

Trump is referring to documents shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that Netanyahu said “conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it said it never had a nuclear weapons program.”

As The Times has reported, much of what Netanyahu detailed was known before the diplomatic agreement was reached:

“But the Iranian program to design and build nuclear weapons was hardly a secret; its existence was the reason that the United States, under President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama, moved to block it. Both presidents said publicly that Iran had a bomb project underway, and the United States mounted, with Israel, a vast covert program to undermine the Iranian effort with one of the world’s most sophisticated cyberattacks.”

U.S. intelligence agencies said in a 2007 report that Iran had frozen its nuclear weapons program in 2003. International inspectors had published information on the program in 2011.

Netanyahu did not provide evidence that Iran had violated the Iran deal itself.