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President Barack Obama omitted and obfuscated many key details about the Iranian nuclear deal during his Tuesday evening State of the Union address, according to nuclear experts and Capitol Hill insiders working on the issue.
Obama claimed that the recently inked interim nuclear deal is a tough agreement that immediately rolls back Iran’s nuclear program in significant ways.
However, experts said he only told viewers part of the story.
“It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled parts of that program back—for the very first time in a decade,” Obama said. “As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.”
The interim deal temporarily halts some parts of Iran’s nuclear program for a period of six months as talks continue. However, Iran has made clear that it can reverse course entirely in the span of one day.
While Iran is required to halt some of its high level enrichment of uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon, it is not actually required to “eliminate” it.
Iran is instead converting its highly enriched uranium to lower enriched uranium, which could still be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
Iran will actually boost its nuclear stockpile under the deal, which permits it to continue enriching uranium to low levels. This enables Tehran to boost its nuclear fuel stores, providing enough material for several nuclear weapons.
“400 kg of 5 percent enriched [uranium] will be gained by changing 100 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium to below 5 percent,” an Iranian nuclear official told the Iranian press last week.
Even if Iran fully complies with the interim deal, its ability to build a nuclear weapon will be delayed by just one month, according to experts.
Obama also misled State of the Union viewers when he claimed that Iran “is not installing advanced centrifuges.”
Iran is permitted under the deal to continue nuclear research and development, including on advanced centrifuges. While Tehran cannot install these centrifuges under the deal, it can ensure they are on standby.
Obama additionally touted “unprecedented inspections” of Iran’s nuclear sites that will “help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.”
However, these inspections only cover sites that Iran has declared. As a result, inspectors are still prevented from entering the country’s most sensitive nuclear areas, including a top site in Parchin and others suspected of having military dimensions.
“The inspections about which [Obama] is so proud actually don’t touch the facilities like Parchin in which Iran has previously done work on nuclear weapons design and components,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. “How can the deal verify that Iran isn’t building a bomb when Obama agreed only to inspections at specific, declared Iranian facilities and omitted others?”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organization carrying out the inspections, will be given greater access, but not nearly enough to determine if Iran is building a nuclear weapon, according to reports.
Nuclear experts and Capitol Hill insiders alike say that President Obama withheld the truth about the nuclear deal.
“It's really unprecedented for a president to mislead the American people so blatantly on a serious national security issue—he's like Obi-Wan Kenobi telling the American public, these are not the nuclear weapons you're looking for,” said one senior Senate aide who works on the Iranian nuclear issue.
“The irony here is that the deal Obama claims to have struck actually does less than six unanimous or near unanimous [United Nations] Security Council resolutions demanded,” said Rubin, who referred to the deal as “far more permissive than Obama depicted.”
The nuclear deal provides Iran with what experts estimate will be around $20 billion in relief from economic sanctions. This cash cannot be taken back even if Iran decides to renege on the deal.
Obama made clear during last night’s speech that he would veto any new sanctions measures.
“Let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” he said.