The White House scrambled to try to limit the damage from reports by a U.N. watchdog group that Iran nuclear fuel stockpiles are growing, revelations that could put a nuclear accord with Tehran by this summer in doubt.
The U.N.’s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its latest report found that Iran’s fuel stocks have grown by roughly 20 percent over the past 18 months and have not been “frozen” during that period, as the Obama administration has previously claimed.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that the IAEA findings are “merely a snapshot in time,” and U.S. officials remain confident that Iran is working to shrink its stockpile under terms agreed to in the preliminary deal reached with Washington and other world powers in April.
But President Obama faced fresh fire over the deal from another corner Tuesday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned again that the developing agreement would “pave the way for Iran to [have] atom bombs,” and Mr. Obama, in a subsequent interview with Israeli’s largest television network, accused the Netanyahu government of being driven by fear and suspicion that was hurting the country’s own interests.
Hours before Mr. Obama’s interview aired, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel must rely on itself “first and foremost” if the U.S. and its allies proceed with what he sees as a fundamentally flawed deal with Iran.
Mr. Obama has previously said that he will not sign a nuclear agreement with Iran unless it’s verifiable, and he tried to downplay concerns that Tehran would use its extra cash from the end of international sanctions to finance more terrorism.
The Iranian regime “have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions,” Mr. Obama said. “And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions. So the question then becomes, ‘Are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters?’ Probably not.”
A key facet of the talks, which face a June 30 deadline, is Iran’s promise to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from roughly 10,000 kilograms down to 300 kilograms. But that reduction has yet to occur, according to the IAEA report issued late last week.
It was not immediately clear how the revelation will affect the talks, especially after a flurry of moves that has upset the U.S. diplomatic team.
First Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator in the talks, announced last week that she’s leaving the State Department shortly after the June 30 negotiations deadline. Then Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who has taken the lead in the final days of the talks, broke his leg in a bicycle accident Sunday in France.
While doctors said Tuesday that a fractured femur sustained in the accident should not interfere with the 71-year-old Mr. Kerry’s diplomatic schedule, administration officials acknowledge the injury can be expected to temper his involvement in the nuclear talks.
President Obama and other world leaders hailed achievement of a “framework” for a final agreement with Iran in April. But a host of details still needs to be ironed out for a final deal to ease international sanctions in exchange for caps on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
By Guy Taylor and Dave Boyer - The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2015