At the UN this week, the world saw a very different exchange between the U.S. and Iran than in the past years. Iranian President Rouhani declared that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons and seeks to remove “mutual uncertainties with full transparency,” saying Iran “does not seek to increase tensions with the United States.” President Obama welcomed recent positive signals from Iran and said, “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.”
Yet some in Congress are saying something much different. Since Rouhani and Obama’s speeches, those who are not interested in peace with Iran have been warning against any change in relations, and have often resorted to many false arguments to maintain that Iran is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to use President Netanyahu’s description of the newly elected President.
Shortly after Rouhani’s speech, during an interview with CNN, Mike Rogers (R-MI) expressed his skepticism towards further nuclear talks and demanded that Iran first end its production of “over 20% enriched uranium.” The demand was odd given that Iran is not enriching above 20%. As is well documented by the IAEA, Iran has produced only low-enriched uranium (between 3.5%-19.75% concentration). Anything beyond 20% would be news indeed, and Rogers should present his evidence to the IAEA, ASAP.
But I suspect that Rogers, as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has more than sufficient understanding of what levels Iran is enriching to, and merely misspoke on this point. Yet, in the same sentence, Rogers also demanded that –before any talks continue–Iran must open the Fordow plant for inspection. This again is odd. While Fordow facility may be deeply fortified against potential military strikes, there are indeed UN inspections there. The IAEA visits the Fordow plant almost weekly and knows well what is going on in there. A quick glance at any of the IAEA’s quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear program will tell you as much. Shouldn’t the head of the House Intelligence committee be aware of these simple and well documented facts?
Meanwhile, the heads of the House Foreign Affairs Committee–Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Elliot Engel (D-NY)–responded to Rouhani’s speech by setting an arbitrary deadline of 100 days for Iran to fix the nuclear issue. To put this in perspective, even Royce and Engel were unable to get sanctions legislation marked up in a committee very amendable to such bills in their first 100 days as its chairs. Yet they want Rouhani to fix all of the problems with Iran’s nuclear program in 100 days.
Then there is Senator Bennett of Colorado, who in a letter to a constituent stated, “Iran recently installed 180 advanced centrifuges at its production-scale uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz… [which] could be used to produce enriched uranium suitable for nuclear reactors.” Yes, that is in fact what centrifuges do. That’s what we want to make sure Iran is doing–instead of potentially using enriched uranium for weapons. The level of confusion on this fundamental point is embarrassing.
And then you have Ted Cruz (R-TX). Further complicating potential peace negotiations between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, the Senate’s new maverick introduced a resolution which sets pre-conditions for such a meeting. In the text, Cruz misquotes Rouhani, claiming the Iranian President referred to Israel as a “a wound…on the body of the Muslim World.” This well documented false translation came from Iranian news sources that embellished a segment of Rouhani’s speech in which he said “Quds day […] is a day that people present the unity of Islam against any type of oppression or aggression. And in any case, in our region, it is an old wound that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds.” He made no direct mention of Israel or Zionism–in fact, even Obama has referred to the lack of Israel-Palestine peace as a wound in the region. The misquote, however, has been exploited by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who does not want the U.S. to fall for Rouhani’s “charm offensive” and is desperate to get back to the days when he could claim Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map.”
Then we have legislators who are just plain freaking out. Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are pushing for a bill which declares war on Iran. Franks even claims Iran has enough low enriched uranium that (if Iran kicked out IAEA inspectors and rapidly enriched it to weapons grade) could produce 20 nuclear bombs. I have no idea where he gets this number. The IAEA’s accounting of Iran’s total enriched uranium, according to the latest Arms Control Association brief, is that Iran has enough low enriched uranium for four bombs–though building a bomb would require many, many more steps. Franks made the exact same exaggerated claim in 2010. So by his estimate, Iran has not enriched any uranium since 2010.
These Congressional hawks apparently have no qualms taking extreme liberty with the facts, all in an unabashed effort to drag the country into another unwanted, unnecessary war.