Netanyahu Says Secret Files Prove Iran Lied About Nuclear Program

Israeli leader makes case against 2015 deal as Trump faces May 12 deadline

Iran's Secret Nuclear
Iran’s Secret Nuclear

Israeli leader makes case against 2015 deal as Trump faces May 12 deadline

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a broadside to the Iran nuclear deal ahead of a deadline for the U.S. to decide on whether to withdraw, presenting what he called new evidence that Iran maintained a secret plan to build nuclear weapons but repeatedly lied about it.

Mr. Netanyahu’s Monday allegations, broadcast in Israel and the U.S., came as President Donald Trump nears a self-imposed May 12 deadline to make a call on the international agreement, which halted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Iran has threatened to restart its program if the U.S. leaves the deal.

Mr. Trump and critics of the 2015 agreement said the material shows why the deal should be overhauled or killed. But many experts and former officials said it provided no new information because the U.S., Europe and international nuclear inspectors have long held that Iran pursued a nuclear-weapons program until 2003 and that some of these activities continued as late as 2009.

Mr. Netanyahu said the documents—which he said Israel obtained from a hidden archive in Tehran, without specifying how—included 100,000 files on paper and disks, and show “Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear-weapons program.”

Mr. Netanyahu, displaying replicas of binders and CDs, said the 2015 agreement was a mistake and urged Mr. Trump to do “the right thing.” Iran’s false denials, he argued, represented a violation of the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Mr. Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv on Monday, said the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was a mistake and urged President Donald Trump to do “the right thing.” PHOTO: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS


Iran’s lead negotiator in the talks leading to the 2015 nuclear deal told Iranian state television that Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation was “a childish, ridiculous show.”

“How would Iran keep such important documents in a deserted industrial warehouse?” Abbas Araghchi said. “The fact that Netanyahu performs this show 10 days before Trump’s decision…makes it clear that it is an orchestrated play to influence Trump’s decision,” he said.

The Israeli leader’s comments came a day after he met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Tel Aviv. Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump spoke by telephone on Saturday, the White House said.

Mr. Netanyahu said the U.S. has vouched for the authenticity of the materials Israel uncovered and has shared the documents with the U.S.

“We have not seen everything, but they have been very eager to share it with us,” a White House official said. “We have no reason to think that anything is inauthentic.”

Israeli officials have been discussing the files with American officials in recent days, the official said, suggesting the release was a coordinated effort. “We were not unhappy about it,” the White House official said of the presentation.

Israeli officials hope Europe will join in a hard line against Iran, and Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he spoke by phone on Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Mr. Macron said during a visit to the White House last week that France would abide by the international agreement, and the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, one of the deal’s negotiators, on Monday said Mr. Netanyahu didn’t say anything questioning Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

“The deal was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties, otherwise we would not have required a nuclear deal to be put in place,” she said in Brussels.

U.S. intelligence officials and Mr. Pompeo also have said Iran is complying with the 2015 agreement.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the nuclear deal is “written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat, and that the verification procedure is “actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in.”

Iran reached a historic agreement with major world powers over its nuclear program in 2015. Under the deal, what did Iran give up and how is it benefiting? WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains.

The Trump administration charges the deal provides Iran too much in economic benefits for too few nuclear restrictions, and has been negotiating a way to address its concerns with European officials.

Mr. Netanyahu has lobbied furiously against the nuclear agreement since before it was reached. On Monday, he displayed photos and documents he said were part of Iran’s “Project Amad,” engineering and design work on weapons and the nuclear core of a warhead. He said officials who were in charge of the country’s weapons efforts held defense positions that would enable them to return one day to their previous pursuits. Mr. Netanyahu has been issuing dire warnings about Iran’s nuclear ambitions since 1996.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, in information published in 2011, concluded that the Amad project was a coordinated effort to build a nuclear weapon that was shelved in 2003. In a 2015 report, the IAEA assessed that while there were some nuclear weapons-related activities after 2003, they didn’t take place in a coordinated fashion.

But because Iran has preserved its nuclear documentation and its nuclear experts still reside in the country, Mr. Netanyahu described the nuclear effort as a continuing project.

Mr. Netanyahu gave his presentation hours after missiles hit Syrian bases in Hama and Aleppo, killing more than a dozen Iranian troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Syrian pro-regime media accused Israel of being behind the attack.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the allegations. U.S. officials said neither they nor members of the coalition against Islamic State in Syria initiated the strikes.

Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation touched off a debate among experts and former officials about the value of the new information claimed by Mr. Netanyahu, whether it offered any new information or backed either side of the argument about the Iran nuclear deal.

Several experts said Iran’s apparent decision to preserve the documentation was a troubling indication that Tehran hasn’t shut the door on developing nuclear weapons in the future.

“The Iranians are preserving an option that can be acted upon quickly in the future,” said David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

“Why would you maintain this kind of documentation?” added Ollie Heinonen, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who favors strengthening the Iran nuclear accord. “The concern is that they are keeping it for a rainy day. We now need a bigger fix than we thought.”

But other experts said Iran was long believed to have had an nuclear weapons program in the past. They said the new information didn’t undermine the case for preserving the Iran accord and that no urgent fix was required, though it could be strengthen in the future.

“Whatever Iran’s past and future nuclear weapons aspirations have been, the fact remains that the JCPOA has physically constrained Iran’s ability to produce fissile material until at least 2026, assuming Iran continues to comply,” said Gary Samore, using the acronym for the Iran nuclear agreement.

Other officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation offered no new information.

“It’s nothing new, we knew of the possible military dimensions of their program up until 2003,” Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Bloomberg TV. “It’s the biggest known secret out there relative to their previous activities; this is really not groundbreaking.”

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