WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Secretary of Energeny Ernest Moniz, who played a pivotal role in the negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran, told a delegation of Israeli reporters on Monday that “If I were Israeli I would support this nuclear deal."
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In a briefing in the U.S. with a delegation from the Israeli Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Moniz stressed that the accord "takes the existential threat" of a nuclear Iran "off the table."
In the past few weeks, Moniz, a leading American nuclear physicist, has become the Obama administration’s point man in selling the agreement to the American media, Congress and U.S. public opinion.
“This agreement does not change one iota who are our friends and allies in the region — Israel and the Gulf states,” Moniz stressed in the meeting with Israeli correspondents.
According to the U.S. energy secretary, the U.S. will not stop pressuring Iran over its support of terror, human rights violations or attempts to undermine regimes in the region. "Iran doesn't move out of the box unless its support for terror and human rights abuses is addressed. In addition, (Iran's) rhetoric around Israel has to change dramatically," he said.
Moniz added that as part of the deal, Iran committed to the U.S. and the world that it would not move to produce nuclear weapons at any stage in the future.
According to Moniz, the U.S. does not trust Iran and is not putting its faith in it, and hence the nuclear deal puts restrictions on its nuclear program for the next 15 years and puts into place an oversight mechanism, parts of which will continue for 20-25 years, while others will remain in place forever.
"From day one to forever, we will have greater insight and visibility into their (nuclear) program," he said.
During most of the briefing, Moniz attempted to explain how the issue of the potential military aspects of Iran's nuclear program was addressed – namely the issue of revealing Iran's past experiments with components of nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in recent years conducted an investigation into the issue, but did not enjoy Iranian cooperation. Dealing with the issue is stipulated in the nuclear deal and is a condition for the removal of sanctions on Iran.
The U.S. energy secretary claimed that there is no secret 'side deals' between Iran and world powers, but rather only understandings reached between the Islamic Republic and the IAEA regulating the manner in which the issue of the possible military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program will be addressed. Like with other nations, he said, these understandings are kept secret. One such clause revealed in recent weeks stipulated that Iran will itself collect the ground samples from the Parchin military base - where testing of nuclear bomb components allegedly took place.
Moniz said he received an in-depth briefing from IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on the understandings reach with Iran. Amano is expected to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the issue this Wednesday. Moniz noted that he believes the IAEA has formulated adequate and accurate work procedures to address the issue of the nuclear program's alleged military nature, including the issue of ground samples.
"I brought the National Laboratory to look at the integrity of the process and we came out satisfied," Moniz said.
In any case Moniz says the U.S. is not looking for Iran to admit past nuclear activity, as he claims they have enough information about such activities. "We are not looking for a confession," Moniz said, adding that the most important thing is to make sure a future program is peaceful.
One of the central questions Moniz was forced to address was the 24-day period UN inspectors will have to wait before being allowed into suspect Iranian facilities. The energy secretary did not sound concerned and noted that it is very difficult – if not impossible – to hide work with radioactive materials.
Nonetheless, he admitted that part of the work Iran could do with components of a nuclear bomb are hard to detect and discover. For example, it would be very difficult to find out ahead of time if Iranian scientists are running computer simulations of nuclear explosions under the guise of scientific research.
On the other hand, Moniz stressed that Iran will be taking a very serious risk if it should decide to try and cheat world powers, because such experiments have been discovered in the past.
"The Iranians have gotten caught in the past," he said, claiming that "in Tehran, they cleaned up (a suspicious site) for six months, but the IAEA still nailed them."
According to Moniz, "we have significantly increased that risk of getting caught and the consequences are much higher. I would say flat out - our capabilities for verification are greater with the agreement than without it."
The conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama over the agreement with Iran is expected to reach new heights this week, becoming a no-holds-barred contest for the hearts and minds of U.S. congressmen, American Jewry, and American public opinion as a whole, as both are set to address the issue in speeches.
Netanyahu is set to address representatives from over 100 American Jewish organizations on Tuesday via an online video feed, hoping to influence Jewish communities to take a staunch public position against the deal with Iran.
The next day, Obama will speak at the American University in Washington, where 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy spoke in an effort to convince the American people that it was possible to prevent nuclear war with Russia through diplomacy. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a press briefing on Friday that the speech is meant to explain to the American people how the Iran deal serves U.S. security interests.