“We are currently testing whether it is possible to achieve a comprehensive resolution to assure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, while the Joint Plan of Action has halted the progress of Iran’s program,” Obama wrote in the introductory letter to the NSS.
The report repeats the claim on two other occasions, referring in one instance to “a diplomatic effort that has already stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program,” and elsewhere to “a first step arrangement that stops the progress of Iran’s nuclear program…”
The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) is the interim agreement that Iran reached with the U.S. and five other countries (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) in November 2013. The deal, which was extended late last year for an additional seven months, granted Tehran limited sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its nuclear program, pending negotiations on a final agreement.
In the face of deep skepticism in Congress, the administration frequently highlights what it says are significant achievements in the Iranian diplomatic initiative – an initiative some officials have suggested could produce Obama’s number one second-term foreign policy success.
In his State of the Union address on January 20, Obama said, “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.”
At issue are the words “halted” or “stopped.”
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column examined Obama’s SOTU claim, and determined that it earned him “three Pinocchios.” (On a scale of one to four Pinocchios, three are handed out for statements deemed to entail “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”)
Obama claimed that progress in Iran’s program had been “halted” as a result of the JPOA. But Post columnist Glenn Kessler, citing non-proliferation experts, said that the amount of nuclear material in Iran’s possession that could eventually be converted for bomb-making had in fact continued to increase over the 2013-2014 period.
(Iran did convert or dilute its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium from “uranium hexafluoride” form to another chemical form, “oxide,” but at the same time continued to produce uranium enriched to below 5 percent. Conversion from “uranium hexafluoride” to “oxide” form could easily be reversed, moving Iran closer to a bomb.)
Instead of his SOTU address claim that “we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material,” Kessler concluded that Obama could have said, “We’ve slowed the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of the most dangerous nuclear material.”
“But instead he choose to make sweeping claims for which there is little basis. Thus he earns Three Pinocchios.”
Hours after the White House released the NSS on Friday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice repeated the claim in a speech at the Brookings Institution.
“American leadership rallied the world to toughen sanctions against Iran,” she said. “Through diplomacy and sustained economic pressure, we’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects. Now, we must give diplomacy a chance to finish the job.”