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Files Show Iran's Program To Build Nuclear Weapons, Netanyahu Says


Let's follow up on yesterday's announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a televised presentation, the Israeli leader showed files obtained from Iran. He said the files showed an Iranian program to build nuclear weapons, which ended in 2003.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: After signing the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran intensified its efforts to hide its secret nuclear files.

INSKEEP: And the old files, he said, remained hidden until now. Nuclear inspectors have said Iran is complying with an agreement limiting its nuclear program, although Netanyahu says the papers show Iran lied about its past. Ron Dermer is Israel's ambassador to the United States, and he's on the line.

Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

RON DERMER: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: So the prime minister included in his speech fairly explicit appeals, it seemed, to President Trump to do the right thing, as Netanyahu said. What is the right thing?

DERMER: Well, look, first, we have to understand what the problem is. The problem is is that the restrictions that the deal puts in place are automatically removed in a few years. This was the core problem of the deal from the beginning. You know, you may have heard people yesterday who are supporters of the deal responded to what Netanyahu said, and they actually said that Netanyahu's presentation only vindicates the need for the nuclear deal. And the argument...

INSKEEP: Sure, because there are inspections and so forth of what Iran's doing.

DERMER: Right. So these arguments - well, we can talk about the inspections in a minute because the inspectors didn't find what we found, what Israeli intelligence found. But the argument of the deal's supporters is, hey, we knew that the Iranians were liars; we knew that they had a nuclear weapons program, and that's why a deal that puts all of these restrictions in place is so important. Now, that sounds reasonable except for one thing. Those restrictions are automatically removed in a few years.

INSKEEP: OK, a couple of things to follow up on then - first, you talked about some of the limitations on Iran expire in this deal. We should go through some of that. There are limitations on uranium that run out in 2025. Some other things go out in 2030. And Iran remains permanently part of this nonproliferation treaty under which they have to be inspected, and they're not supposed to go after a nuclear weapon. You don't want those restrictions to go away, do you?

DERMER: Well, the restrictions should've been permanent in the first place, and they were not. And the fact that Iran is a signatory to the NPT is meaningless because they violated - I mean, you had Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, saying 10 days ago that Iran never intended to have nuclear weapons. You just saw a presentation from Netanyahu that shows that that was a brazen lie.

Now, Steve, why did they have all of this information locked in vaults in this warehouse in Tehran? Did they have it? Why didn't they just burn it? Why didn't they just destroy it? They have it locked in vaults because when those restrictions are removed, they plan to go into those vaults and to use that information to have a deliverable nuclear device.

INSKEEP: Let's just follow up on a thing that you say there, Ambassador, because we had Aaron David Miller - Mideast analyst, former U.S. diplomat - not a big fan of the nuclear deal, by the way - on the program elsewhere today, and he says that these documents actually may reveal why the deal is necessary because the inspections are so intrusive on Iran. Let's listen.

AARON DAVID MILLER: They know how to enrich uranium, and ultimately, they probably know how to create a missile system to deliver a weapon. And that's what needs to be watched. Jim Mattis basically said that, in fact, this is exactly why we have the agreement because this was an agreement designed to stop the Iranians from cheating.

INSKEEP: And Jim Mattis, the U.S. defense secretary, did testify last month that he's read the deal three times. He says it's well-designed to catch cheating with intrusive inspections. Is this actually an argument for going after some additional deal or some later deal while keeping the current system in place?

DERMER: No, it's not. I like Aaron very much, but he's not right about this one. The inspection regime in Iran, Steve, is a joke. The inspectors did not find what we found. In the past, all the revelations that came came about through the work of intelligence agencies. I'm not blaming the International Atomic Energy Agency because they don't have an intelligence agency that can do the work. What the inspectors are doing is they are looking at the keys under the light of the lamp post. They cannot see everything that's happening in the dark. Iran is a country that is half the size of Europe.

To believe that a few inspectors who are looking at sites which Iran is allowing them to look at would be able to monitor and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the future is a big mistake. But again, I want to stress this one point. Israel said three years ago, the greater danger of this deal is not that Iran will get to a nuclear bomb by violating it; it's that Iran can get to an entire nuclear arsenal by keeping the deal because these restrictions will be removed. And on your show...

INSKEEP: If there are not further restrictions - that's what you're arguing.

DERMER: Yeah, if there's not further restrictions. But...

INSKEEP: ...And if they violate the nonproliferation treaty and so forth, yeah.

DERMER: Well, if not violating - the commitment of Iran not to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gave us any comfort, we wouldn't have need a deal to begin with because they've been signatories of the NPT from the beginning, and they violated. And obviously, you saw the extent of their violations yesterday in Netanyahu's presentation.

INSKEEP: Last question.

DERMER: I think revelations...

INSKEEP: Last...

DERMER: ...The revelations yesterday should convince people that we have to have a demand that they fully dismantle their nuclear program.

INSKEEP: Last question, Ambassador - does any evidence that was uncovered show that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons or currently actively violating the nuclear agreement?

DERMER: Sure. First, you have the violation in terms of their falsification of their statements to the IAEA in December.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they lied about the past and what their intentions had been.

DERMER: Well, that was a key stage in actually going to the deal. It was December 2015 where the IAEA had to sign off. And the IAEA whitewashed it, and there's no way they could've done that if this - if all of these revelations were made in November 2015. We didn't have the information then, or else we would've released it. But there's no way the IAEA would've signed...

INSKEEP: But nothing shows that in 2018, they're looking for a weapon, right?

DERMER: No, but now you've seen that they're have an active program of concealing their nuclear weapons program. They put this information in these vaults recently. In 2017, they put that information there.

INSKEEP: Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States - always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.

DERMER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And NPR Middle East editor Larry Kaplow has been listening. Larry, there are other nations that are parties to this deal - France, Germany, Britain, Russia, China. What are some of them saying?

LARRY KAPLOW, BYLINE: Well, they've said they're interested in these materials, and there probably are facts and names and locations in these materials that weapons inspectors from the IAEA want to look at. But France and Germany have also said, to them, this shows why this deal is essential, and it should be as robust as it is and why it's important that the deal does put inspectors in Iran looking at their weapons program.

INSKEEP: Oh, they're picking up the argument that this just shows Iran would try to cheat, and so you do what you can about it.

KAPLOW: That's right. That's why - better to have inspectors there than not have inspectors there.

INSKEEP: NPR's Middle East editor Larry Kaplow. Thanks very much, really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.