Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence blasted the 2015 deal on Iran's nuclear program on Monday, saying it gave Tehran billions to fund attacks.
Addressing a conference of the Christians United for Israel advocacy group – Pence in person, and Netanyahu remotely – both painted Donald Trump's withdrawal from the deal as a victory, while Pence vowed that Washington "will continue to oppose Iran's malign influence."
The deal was not only based on a lie, Netanyahu said, but "it’s a terrible deal because it gave Iran a path to getting a nuclear arsenal when the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs were removed. It didn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paved it [. . .] Now, it made other problems worse by removing sanctions on Iran, thereby helping Iran fuel its war machine in the region. See, when you removed the sanctions, Iran got billions and billions—tens of billions of dollars, potentially hundreds of billions of dollars – to fund its aggression."
As for Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal and restore sanctions, Netanyahu said that "Israel is deeply grateful for that, because this is vital for Israel’s security, for the security of the region, for the security of the United States, for the security of the world."
Pence specifically mentioned the administration of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in his criticism. "The previous administration’s so-called deal didn’t prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," he said. "It just delayed it for a few years. In exchange, the deal gave away billions of dollars in cash and sanctions relief that Iran used to fund more terrorist attacks on innocent Westerners. As we speak, our actions are already cutting off the regime’s ability to support its terrorist minions across the Middle East."
Iran on Monday began enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, just breaking the limit set by its nuclear deal with world powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran surpassed the enrichment threshold.
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The head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said Monday that the world knows Iran is not pursing a nuclear weapon. "Nuclear weapons have no place in Islam," he said. "Islam never approves of weapons of mass destruction."
Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile could begin to narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic weapon, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.
There are fears that a miscalculation in the crisis could explode into open conflict. Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal over a year ago and re-imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran, nearly bombed the country last month after Tehran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.
On Sunday, Trump warned that "Iran better be careful." He didn't elaborate on what actions the U.S. might consider but told reporters: "Iran's doing a lot of bad things."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.