Israel Shows Evidence On Why Trump Should End Nuclear Deal With Iran
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are monitoring the impact of a speech yesterday delivered by Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, tonight I'm here to tell you one thing - Iran lied, big time.
GREENE: Netanyahu speaking there as he dramatically revealed stolen Iranian plans. They are years old, but Netanyahu said they offer clear evidence that Iran had lied and had been seeking to build a nuclear bomb. President Trump's reaction - vindication. He said that this proved what he has long thought, that Iran cannot be trusted and the nuclear deal brokered by President Obama was, in Trump's words, really the worst deal ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think, if anything, what's happening today and what's happened over the last little while and what we've learned has really shown that I've been 100 percent right.
GREENE: All right. I want to bring in Aaron David Miller. He's a former Mideast peace negotiator. He spent many years advising U.S. secretaries of state on Mideast policy. Welcome back to the program.
AARON DAVID MILLER: David, always a pleasure to be here.
GREENE: So is President Trump right to feel vindicated?
MILLER: Well, that depends what the vindication is. The reality is that this president during the campaign and as president has railed against the Iran agreement. He wants to be the un-Obama (ph). He thinks it's the worst deal ever negotiated in the history of negotiations. And I think what the prime minister did, his so-called TED talk yesterday, was an effort actually to provide the administration with additional information and incentive to begin the process of exiting the deal.
On the merits of the case - and I don't want to trivialize for a minute Israeli security concerns about Iran's conventional or unconventional weapons or their commitment or intention to develop a nuclear weapons program, but the reality is the prime minister's presentation really didn't provide much new evidence, particularly in the critical area, David, of what the Iranians have been doing since abiding by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
GREENE: Oh, so you're saying this was Netanyahu - I mean, you called it a TED talk. I mean, this was a splashy thing he was doing to try and put pressure on President Trump to leave this deal and - but say more about that there was not much new here because it is important. I mean, this is stuff, while important, while revealing details, this is stuff that negotiators in the United States and other countries already knew about when they came to this 2015 agreement with Iran.
MILLER: That's what most of the analysts who have been writing and commenting on this issue, including some Israelis, have basically argued that the IAEA was aware of all of this. The Israelis actually broke into this warehouse in Tehran in January of 2016. They have had this information for at least a year, and the head of Mossad briefed the president, President Trump, in January of this year (unintelligible).
GREENE: Oh, well, that makes the timing interesting if Netanyahu is deciding to reveal it at the moment when President Trump is within, you know, less than two weeks of making a decision about the Iran deal.
MILLER: I mean, I think it explains - it explains a lot. It also explains the fact that I think the Israelis who are fearful of an Iranian retaliation for their recent strikes in Syria might be put more on the defensive and would be constrained from retaliating if in fact the Israelis were making the case in the international community that they had lied back in 2003 to the IAEA about what they were developing. But on balance, again, I think this is - look, the prime minister is on the verge of a major political victory. That is to say, getting the United States to walk away from this deal. And I think Mr. Netanyahu likes to be President Trump's coach. He likes to be his cheerleader. And he's also, frankly, the prime minister in Israel, a major player in this game, this looming game with respect to an impending confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria.
GREENE: Interesting argument from the French foreign ministry this morning, that they said that this information provided by Israel of Iran's past nuclear weapons program could actually be an argument for keeping the nuclear deal in place. I mean, they said that it at least in part confirms that the nuclear program in Iran was not non-civilian as Iran has argued but that this proved the need to ensure this deal is there and that U.N. inspectors remain. Is that - do you buy into that argument?
MILLER: I mean, well, it's compelling, and if you buy the fact that - look, this is a flawed agreement. There's no question about it. And as one Israeli pointed out, to what the Israelis found constitutes a kind of lending library for the future. Once scientific information enters the heads of scientists in any nation, they have files. You can't expunge or extract that information. So, yeah, the reality is that the Iranians will in fact - they know how to enrich uranium. And ultimately, they probably know how to create a missile system to deliver a weapon. And that's what needs to be watched. Mattis - Jim Mattis basically said after reading the agreement...
GREENE: Defense secretary, yeah.
MILLER: ...Three times that in fact this is exactly why we have the agreement because this was an agreement designed to stop the Iranians from cheating. So the issue of Iranian intentions, which I think are - reveal one of the most significant takeaways from what the Israelis found, are worrisome but constrained.
GREENE: In just the few seconds we have left, is there a way to keep this deal in place and add some teeth that would make President Trump able to carry it forward?
MILLER: There's only two ways to do that; no. 1, negotiate with the Europeans, which the president is doing not terribly successfully many argue, or, two, open up a direct channel with the Iranians in an effort to create some sort of supplemental agreement. But the U.S. would have to pay a price for whatever concessions the Iranians make.
GREENE: Aaron David Miller, former State Department adviser on the Middle East, a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a frequent voice on our program, thanks so much.
MILLER: Thank you, David.
(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "OF THE WRIST")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.