WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's televised speech drew mixed reactions in Washington, with U.S. President Trump claiming it proved his claims on the nuclear accord with Iran. A short time after he concluded his remarks, a U.S. official confirmed that the information he presented had indeed been shared with the United States and found to be true by its own intelligence agencies.
Trump, who spoke publicly 30 minutes after Netanyahu's speech, said that the speech "showed that I was 100% right" in criticizing the Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu revealed a cache of documents Monday he says proves Iran lied to the world about its nuclear program, even after the nuclear deal with the world. "Iran did not come clean about its nuclear program," Netanyahu said in a prime time address in English.
Trump said, however, that he is "not telling you what I'm doing" with regards to cancelling or preserving the deal, adding that "a lot of people think they know." He repeated his criticism of the deal's alleged shortcomings, including the fact that some parts of it will expire within less than a decade.
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The U.S. Press Secretary also released a statement backing Netanyahu on Monday. "The United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully," read the statement, adding that Iran has tried and failed to hide its nuclear program from the world and from its own people.
The Iranian regime has shown it will use destructive weapons against its neighbors and others," the statement concluded.
Netanyahu's comments mostly received support from Republicans and critics of the 2015 nuclear deal, while being mocked or belittled by those who supported the deal when it was signed. While his supporters praised his presentation, his critics emphasized that his speech didn't include information about violations of the nuclear deal, and only dealt with information from the years before it was negotiated.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israeli lobby group, used its Twitter account to promote Netanyahu's speech, describing it as "Important information about Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program." AIPAC was led the fight against the nuclear deal in the U.S. Congress, which failed to stop it from garnering enough support to go into effect.
The left-wing Jewish group J Street, which lobbied Congress at the time to support the deal, took a more critical approach, stating during the speech that "Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing an amazing job making the case for an international agreement to provide unprecedented monitoring and inspections of Iran's nuclear program to ensure it cannot produce nuclear weapons."
The organization also wrote on its Twitter account: "We sure hope President Trump watched, as Prime Minister Netanyahu just made it sound very irresponsible to do anything that would threaten our ability to keep close tabs on Iran's nuclear program."
Suzanne Maloney, an expert on Iran at the Brookings Institution, stated that "nothing that Netanyahu has said undercuts the rationale for the [Iran deal]. That deal was predicated on a very clear and broad understanding by all the parties that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program."
Rob Malley, a former senior official in the Obama administration who worked on Middle East policy, expressed a similar view. "For those who have followed the Iranian nuclear file, there is nothing new in Bibi's presentation. All it does is vindicate need for the nuclear deal," he said. Malley added, however, that "the Israeli prime minister has an audience of one: Trump. And he's unfortunately unlikely to reach the same conclusion."
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that was highly critical of the Iran deal, said after the speech that "the most dramatic revelation for me was that Israel lifted 100,000 physical documents out of Iran. This was as big a blow to Iran as the intel that was revealed."
He added that "spies steal documents all the time. But this was a huge cache. And usually, spy agencies keep quiet after the intelligence is lifted. Not so with the Israelis. They are broadcasting this – making it as much a psychological operation as a revelation about Iran’s nuclear mendacity."
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary during the administration of George W. Bush, wrote during the speech - "this is one powerful presentation by Netanyahu. Anyone who doesn’t think Iran was lying and still is lying doesn’t know Iran." He was then criticized by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who tweeted at Fleischer - "Maybe you aren’t the best messenger for this?" - a reference to the Bush administration's claims that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction before the American invasion of that country in 2003.
'Based on lies'
Presenting 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs, Netanyahu said Iran hid an "atomic archive" of documents that on its nuclear program.
Iran is "blatantly lying" when it says it doesn't have a nuclear program, Netanyahu claimed, laying out what he claimed was proof Iran had developed and continued to develop its nuclear program.
Netanyahu referred to a secret Iranian nuclear project, codenamed "Amad," which he said had been shelved in 2003, though he said work in the field had continued.
Netanyahu concluded by saying "Iran lied about never having a secret nuclear program. Secondly, even after the deal, it continued to expand its nuclear program for future use. Thirdly, Iran lied by not coming clean to the IAEA," he said, adding that, "the nuclear deal is based on lies based on Iranian deception."
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Netanyahu over the phone on Sunday to discuss the current situation in the Middle East, the White House said. The readout of their phone conversation stated that they "discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region, especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities."
In a rare move, Netanyahu called the heads of Israel's two news broadcasts and updated them with the content of his planned statement.
Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said before Netanyahu's speech that the prime minister is just "the boy who can't stop crying wolf at it again."
Netanyahu's speech comes after an airstrike in Syria Sunday night in which 200 missiles were destroyed and 11 Iranians were killed, according to pro-Assad sources. Various reports attribute the strike to Israel, but the origin of the attack remains unconfirmed.
The strikes came as tensions increase between Israel and Iran in Syria and the U.S. deadline on Iranian sanctions regarding the nuclear deal, May 12, draws near.
Trump spoke with Netanyahu over the phone on Sunday to discuss the current situation in the Middle East, the White House said. The readout of their phone conversation stated that they "discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region, especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities."
Visiting in Israel Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will cancel the Iran nuclear deal if it is not fixed. Pompeo made the statement following a meeting with Netanyahu.