CAMERA Op-Ed: The Washington Post’s Flawed ‘Fact Check’ on the Iran Deal

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared in The Daily Caller on May 14, 2018)

President Donald Trump’s May 8, 2018 announcement that he would be removing the United States from the Iran deal attracted considerable media attention—much of it littered with omissions and distortions. But a May 9, 2018 Washington Post “fact check” of Trump’s remarks may take the cake.

The Post’s report claimed that the President’s “rationale” for withdrawing from the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “merits scrutiny,” but then failed to deliver an accurate take.

The “fact check” begins with the assertion that the Iran nuclear deal’s “prohibition on Iran’s building nuclear weapons does not sunset, and other international agreements to which Iran has committed itself prohibit the development of such weapons.” Yet, this is misleading.

Only several paragraphs later—and even then only briefly—does The Post acknowledge that Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty. However, the paper omits that Iran signed the NPT under the government of Shah Reza Pahlavi. That is, it did so prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, in which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei and his gang of Islamic fundamentalist theocrats came to power. Khomenei and the terror state that he created viewed the Shah as illegitimate and murdered many members of his government, infamously hanging some of them from construction equipment. The newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran explicitly or implicitly voided many pre-existing agreements made under the Shah.

Nor does The Post explain why—if Iran was actually abiding by the NPT—the Iran deal is even necessary in the first place. The newspaper also fails to explain why an agreement that Iran has already disregarded can be relied upon as a bulwark to “prohibit the development” of nuclear weapons.

The Post also omits and obfuscates key flaws in the deal, taking issue with the President’s claim that “even if Iran fully complies” with the agreement “the regime can still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time. The deal’s sunset provisions are totally unacceptable…”

The “fact check” asserts that Trump must be “alluding to the fact that the JCPOA gradually lifts restrictions on the types of nuclear activities and the level of uranium enrichment Iran may conduct. These and other provisions sunset over 10, 15, 20 or 25 years.” However, The Post implies that this doesn’t matter, noting that deal supporters “say the JCPOA at least buys time, subjecting Iran to strong constraints on its nuclear activities for 10 to 25 years.”

In fact, President Trump is entirely correct when he claims that Iran’s nuclear breakout time will be nil despite the JCPOA. And his predecessor, perhaps the ultimate deal supporter—in the U.S. anyways—has even acknowledged as much.

In an April 7, 2015 interview with NPR, President Barack Obama admitted that in “13, 14, 15 years” Iran, thanks to advanced centrifuges, will be able to “enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” In fact, The Post omits that the JCPOA does not address the R&D aspects of Iran’s program and allows for the use of advanced centrifuges.

Similarly, Iran is not required to disclose the possible military dimensions (PMD) aspects of its nuclear program—making monitoring and tracking any illicit activity difficult, in part by depriving inspectors of a benchmark. Indeed, the deal only allows inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at facilities “declared” by Tehran; those that Iran doesn’t acknowledge don’t get inspected. And even then, Iran is notified twenty-four days in advance of any inspections. This, of course, runs counter to claims, made by Obama administration officials like deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, that any final deal will have “anytime, anywhere” inspections.

Indeed, although The Post notes that the “IAEA already has the ability to investigate nuclear facilities and activities disclosed by Iran’s government,” it both omits these important factors and fails to inform readers that the agency doesn’t have its own intelligence arm; it’s completely at the whim of Tehran’s cooperation and subject to the Islamic Republic’s documented skill at subterfuge.

The Post ignores these flaws, preferring instead to stick with the broad and meaningless claim that the deal includes “strong constraints” and provides the “international community [with] wide access to investigate its nuclear activities.”

A recently revealed Israeli operation, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30, 2018, proved that Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program, in violation of both the NPT and statements that it made to the IAEA, the U.S. and others during the deal’s negotiations. In a daring operation, Israeli intelligence operatives managed to remove thousands of documents, which were later authenticated by the U.S., showing that Iran had not only lied about its nuclear program, but was engaged in hiding it during JCPOA negotiations.

In minimizing fashion, The Post’s “fact check” cited pro-deal advocates who “described Israel’s finding as nothing new.” However, none of them had seen, much less gone through, the thousands of documents that Israel—not the IAEA, which was unaware of them—had obtained. In fact, the Institute for Science and Security (ISIS), which was briefed by Israeli officials, has noted that the nuclear archive recovered by Israel—including 183 discs containing 55,000 documents and another 55,000 hardcopy pages – “make the JCPOA’s sunsets that much more deadly.” ISIS head David Albright said that Israel’s discovery was a “smoking gun” that showed previously “unknown sites” and that Iran’s archive was kept “active for possible future use” by the regime. The former Deputy Director General of the IAEA, Oli Heinonen, called the revelations in some of the documents a “jackpot.”

That “experts” would claim that “nothing new” was revealed in an entire archive of thousands of documents they hadn’t viewed, casts their credibility and motives into question. That The Post would take such claims at face value, without a second thought, undercuts their pretension to an impartial “fact check.”

The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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