Obama Aide Counters Claims White House Misled Over Iranian Nuclear Deal

Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said negotiations only took off after a more moderate Iranian president was elected.

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Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes participates in the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2015.
Deputy U.S. National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes participates in the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2015. Credit: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

Ben Rhodes, a top adviser to President Barak Obama, has responded to the controversy sparked by last Sunday's New York Times Magazine profile of himself which suggested that contacts culminating in the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers last summer were not exactly as presented to the public.

"The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented — that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran [...] — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal," the Times Magazine reported. "Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false."

While the American public was led to believe that negotiations between the West and the Islamic Republic took off after the election of President Hassan Rohani, considered to be a moderate political force, negotiations with hard-liners began much earlier, the magazine reported.

In a blog post on the Medium website posted on early Monday, Rhodes, who is the president's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, wrote that "given the importance of the questions raised about the Iran deal over the last few days," he wished to clarify how the advocacy for the Iran deal was carried out.

"We never made any secret of our interest in pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran," he wrote in the blog. "However, we did not have any serious prospect of reaching a nuclear deal until after the election of Hasan Rouhani in 2013," Rhodes stated. "After the Rouhani government took office, our confidential negotiations with the Iranians accelerated, and quickly led to public negotiations," he wrote.

"We did aggressively make the case for the Iran deal during the congressional review mandated by statute last summer, as it was imperative that the facts of the deal be understood for it to be implemented," Rhodes wrote. "Opponents of the deal had no difficulty in making their case—through commentary, a paid media campaign, and the distribution of materials making a variety of arguments against the deal. Tough and fair questions were raised; sometimes, there were also inaccuracies about the nature of the deal. Given our interest in making sure that any misinformation was corrected, and that people understood our policy, we made a concerted effort to provide information about the deal to any interested party, including to outside organizations and any journalists covering the issue."

The lights of the House Chamber are reflected in the railing that surrounds the chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 3, as Netanyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress. Credit: AP

Among the most vocal opponents of the agreement was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the nuclear pact inadequate to curb Iran's nuclear program, thereby posing a threat to Israel and the West. Prior to a Congressional vote on the agreement, the Israeli prime minister addressed a joint session of the United States Congress on the issue.

Countering any suggestion of manipulation of the media coverage on the nuclear agreement, Rhodes wrote:  "A review of the press from that period will find plenty of tough journalism and scrutiny. We had to answer countless questions about every element of the deal and our broader Iran policy from reporters."

"The critical point that the deal’s opponents are missing in the current debate is that we believed deeply in the case that we were making: about the effectiveness of the deal, about the value of diplomacy, and about the stakes involved," Rhodes asserted. The proof of what the Obama administration accomplished, the White House adviser claimed, is that the nuclear agreement is being implemented, "averting a nuclear-armed Iran or a military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program."

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