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Iran and the bomb
May 20, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday shared the agenda he wants Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to pursue following his re-election win Friday. Speaking at a joint press conference in Riyadh with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Tillerson said he hopes Rouhani will use his new term "to begin a process of dismantling Iran's network of terrorism."

"We also hope that he puts an end to their ballistic missile testing," Tillerson continued. "We also hope that he restores the rights of Iranians." Rouhani, who facilitated the nuclear deal Iran signed with the U.S. during the Obama administration, is a moderate and ran on a message of "social and political freedom" in contrast with his hardline challenger.

Tillerson also used the occasion to praise the massive U.S.-Saudi arms deal signed Saturday, calling it a "strong message to our common enemies," a category in which both governments place Iran. Watch an excerpt of his comments below. Bonnie Kristian

December 31, 2015

On Wednesday, the Obama administration provided Congress with a draft of new sanctions it intends to levy against five Iranians and several businesses and individuals outside Iran as punishment for Iran's ballistic missile tests in October and November. The sanctions, prepared amid rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., are the first to be issued by the U.S. since it and five other nations signed a deal with Iran to defang Tehran's nuclear weapons ambitions. The United Nations has banned Iran from developing and testing ballistic missiles, which experts say are useful only for delivering nuclear warheads; Iran insists its ballistic missiles are only for defensive purposes.

"We've been looking for some time ‎at options for additional actions related to Iran's ballistic missile program based on our continued concerns about its activities, including the October 10th launch," a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal late Wednesday. The sanctions are seen in part as a response to critics in the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia who accuse Obama of forgiving Iran's transgressions to save the nuclear deal. It's not clear how Iran will respond to the sanctions or how they will affect national elections scheduled for February.

Along with the five individuals at Iran's Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and its subsidiaries, the sanctions are expected to target Dubai businessman Hossein Pournaghshband, his company, and its Hong Kong subsidiary. The amount of money involved is much smaller than the $100 billion Iran will gain access to when the nuclear deal takes effect, as soon as January. Peter Weber

September 21, 2015

On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it has made "significant progress" in its investigation into past nuclear activity at Iran's Parching military complex. Samples "were taken at places of interest to the agency at the particular location in Parchin," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who visited the site on Sunday.

The samples were taken before he arrived, Amano said, and "the Iranian side played a part in the sample-taking process by swiping samples," but the samples — in places the IAEA had only observed by satellite before — were authenticated and "the process was carried out under our responsibility and monitoring." U.S. critics of the Iran deal have homed in on the confidential side agreement between the IAEA and Iran. Under the arrangement, Western diplomats tell Reuters, Iranian technicians physically take samples while IAEA experts observe and oversee the process. Peter Weber

September 7, 2015

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday found himself in an awkward conversation with Fox News' Chris Wallace on the subject of Iranian nuclear expansion. "You and President Bush, the Bush-Cheney administration, dealt with Iran for eight years," Wallace noted, during which time "Iran went from zero known [nuclear] centrifuges in operation to more than 5,000."

As Wallace pressed him as to whether he'd left a mess for the Obama administration, Cheney said that he doesn't "think of it that way," suggesting that the 2003 invasion of Iraq temporarily cowed Iran into ceasing nuclear activity, and claiming that Iranian nuclear development only occurred "on Obama's watch." When Wallace pushed back with the fact that the centrifuges topped 5,000 before Obama ever took office, Cheney conceded the point but argued that his administration "did a lot" to control arms development in Iran by threatening invasion.

The nuclear centrifuges in question are not necessarily indicators that Iran was or is pursuing nuclear weaponry. In 2012, 16 American intelligence agencies agreed Iran was not building the bomb, a conclusion which matched the findings of a 2007 report. Bonnie Kristian

August 24, 2015

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he will "strongly support" the nuclear deal with Iran "and will do everything in my power to ensure that it stands." Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, is the 27th senator, all Democrats, to publicly back the Iran accord. Two Democrats — Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (N.J.) — have said they will vote against the Iran deal, joining what's expected to be unified Republican opposition.

Thirty-four senators can ensure that if the Senate disapproves of the Iran agreement, President Obama's veto will stand; 41 senators can sustain a filibuster, meaning Obama wouldn't even have to veto the bill. Reid told The Washington Post that he is "cautiously optimistic" that his caucus will prevent a veto override and "still hopeful" they will be able to block the bill entirely.

"At the end of the day, there is no doubt in my mind that the threat of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon — the one outcome we all agree is unacceptable — is far more likely if Congress rejects this agreement," Reid said, adding that critics' assertion that the deal could be re-negotiated on better terms is "fantasy." Peter Weber

August 21, 2015

In an Aug. 19 letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), President Obama noted pointedly that the deal to curb Iran's nuclear program doesn't prevent the U.S. from acting unilaterally if Iran tries to cheat. "Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond," the president wrote.

Though the letter is addressed to Nadler, The New York Times says it is "also aimed at other Democrats with concerns about the deal." Obama needs the support of Democrats to sustain an expected veto if the GOP Congress rejects the deal. So far, only two Senate Democrats — Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Robert Menedez (N.J.) — and 12 House Democrats have said they will vote against the accord.

Among the new things Obama explicitly laid out in the letter were a pledge to create a White House office dedicated to enacting and monitoring the Iran deal, confirmation that the U.S. could re-impose sanctions piece-by-piece if Iran failed to live up to the deal, assurance that he would use the multinational body overseeing the agreement to keep Iran from getting nuclear-related technology, and a promise to "enhance the already intensive joint efforts" with Israel in the Middle East — including new missile defense funding and tunnel-detecting infrastructure. Peter Weber

August 20, 2015

On Wednesday, The Associated Press threw a wrench into the U.S. debate about the Iran nuclear deal, reporting that the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency had cut a "secret agreement" with Iran that would allow Tehran to handpick the nuclear inspectors at its Parchin military facility, a site the West believes was used to conduct covert hydrodynamic experiments related to nuclear weapons. The IAEA said Thursday that it is satisfied with its arrangements.

Iran won't get any sanctions relief until the IAEA obtains enough information about Tehran's past nuclear activities to sign off on a report by the end of the year. IAEA spokesman Serge Gas said the agency is unable to discuss the details of its confidential agreement with Tehran, but that "the separate arrangements of the roadmap are consistent with the IAEA verification practice and they meet the IAEA requirements."

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department also backed up the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. "We're confident in the agency's technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran's former program," said spokesman John Kirby, "issues that, in some cases, date back more than a decade." He wouldn't discus any details, but said Congress had received a classified briefing on the IAEA arrangements. Critics of the deal in Congress said the briefing was insufficient. Peter Weber

August 12, 2015

On Monday, the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced a new chairman, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign aimed at sinking the Iran nuclear deal agreed to by Tehran and six world powers, including the U.S. More quietly, the group said that its president and co-founder, Gary Samore, was stepping down, replaced by David Ibsen.

The reason Samore resigned, he told The New York Times, is that after carefully studying the deal, he found he supports it. "I think President Obama's strategy succeeded," he said. "He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions." Samore isn't exactly a dove on Iran — he helped launch UANI in 2008 to promote tougher sanctions on Tehran, which he believed was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. He later served as an adviser to Obama on nuclear issues.

And he doesn't think the deal is perfect, either. If the deal is enacted, "we will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on sanctions or, if necessary, use military force," Samore told The Times. "If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or renege, I'd still take the deal." Samore remains on UANI's advisory board, and hopes the organization plays a role making sure non-nuclear sanctions remain against Iran. Peter Weber

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