Ad tars sen­a­to­rial can­di­date with sup­port­ing Iran’s ‘path to a nu­clear bomb’

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - GLENN KESSLER

“A deal that gives bil­lions to ter­ror­ists. Lifts bal­lis­tic mis­sile arms con­trols. Lets Iran in­spect its own nu­clear sites. And gives Iran a path to a nu­clear bomb.”

— Video ad spon­sored by the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee at­tack­ing Cather­ine Cortez Masto, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for the U.S. Se­nate

Few things are more fright­en­ing than nu­clear war. The most fa­mous— or in­fa­mous— po­lit­i­cal com­mer­cial of all time fea­tured im­ages of a nu­clear ex­plo­sion. This was the “Daisy” com­mer­cial, aired just once by the 1964 re­elec­tion cam­paign of Lyn­don John­son (D). By de­sign, the ad made no men­tion of his op­po­nent, Sen. Barry Gold­wa­ter (R), but the clear im­pli­ca­tion was that a vote for Gold­wa­ter would lead to nu­clear war.

This ad by the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee also ends with im­ages of a nu­clear holo­caust— mush­room clouds as well as build­ings and school buses blown to pieces. It is likely to be a tem­plate for at­tack ads against Democrats who sup­ported the in­ter­na­tional agree­ment to re­strain Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. Not a sin­gle Repub­li­can law­maker sup­ported the agree­ment— and quite a few Democrats also op­posed it. Even Democrats who sup­ported the deal ex­pressed mis­giv­ings and said it was a close call.

When Cather­ine Cortez Masto, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for the U.S. Se­nate, de­cided to sup­port the agree­ment, she, too, said she had con­cerns. She stressed that mil­i­tary force must re­main an op­tion and that the “United States will never al­low a nu­cle­ar­armed Iran.” She also said sanc­tions must be main­tained on Iran for its sup­port of mil­i­tant groups.

In any 50-sec­ond ad, for­eign­pol­icy nu­ances are likely to be lost. Let’s look at each of the claims made in the ad and whether they are ex­ag­ger­ated.

The Facts

“A deal that gives bil­lions to ter­ror­ists.”

Iran has bil­lions of dol­lars in as­sets that are frozen in for­eign banks around the globe, and this deal would un­lock those funds. No one quite knows how much money is at stake, but es­ti­mates range from $29 bil­lion to $150 bil­lion. The Trea­sury Depart­ment has es­ti­mated that once Iran ful­filled other obli­ga­tions, it would have about $56 bil­lion left.

That’s cer­tainly “bil­lions.” But re­mem­ber, this is al­ready Iran’s money; it is not be­ing “given” any kind of sign­ing bonus.

Sec­ond, un­less one sim­ply wants to la­bel the en­tire Ira­nian gov­ern­ment as “ter­ror­ists,” one has to as­sume that Iran will turn around and give bil­lions of dol­lars to mil­i­tant groups such as Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas.

But this may not be far­fetched. The Trea­sury Depart­ment in 2011 des­ig­nated the en­tire Ira­nian gov­ern­ment as a “pri­mary money-laun­der­ing con­cern.” Iran is es­ti­mated to have spent as much as $15 bil­lion in 2012 and 2013 prop­ping up the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad, even as its econ­omy im­ploded be­cause of sanc­tions.

The ad, how­ever, in­cor­rectly sug­gests that the agree­ment di­rectly al­lows the fi­nanc­ing of ter­ror­ists.

“Lifts bal­lis­tic mis­sile arms con­trols.”

“Arms con­trols” refers to U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sanc­tions lim­it­ing na­tions from sup­ply­ing Iran’s weapon pro­grams. Iran had wanted the sanc­tions lifted im­me­di­ately, but as a com­pro­mise, the deal called for the em­bargo on bal­lis­tic mis­siles to be lifted af­ter a max­i­mum of eight years. Sanc­tions on con­ven­tional weapons would be lifted af­ter five years. The time frame could be short­ened if the In­ter­na­tional Atomic Energy Agency de­ter­mines that Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram was only for peace­ful pur­poses.

Here, again, the ad uses mis­lead­ing lan­guage. This nu­clear deal is an arms-con­trol agree­ment, but the ad makes it ap­pear as if “arms con­trols” are be­ing weak­ened. Sup­plies for Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram were un­der sanc­tions, but there were never agreed lim­its on the num­ber of Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­siles, as is typ­i­cal in an arm­scon­trol agree­ment.

“Lets Iran in­spect its own nu­clear sites.”

Un­der the deal, all of Iran’s de­clared nu­clear sites, such as the Natanz ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity, will be un­der con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing by the IAEA. For 10 years, Iran will have lim­its on the ura­nium en­rich­ment per­mit­ted at Natanz; the IAEA will be able to keep close tabs on the pro­duc­tion. The deal also al­lows IAEA mon­i­tor­ing of Iran’s cen­trifuge pro­duc­tion and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, the pro­cure­ment chain, and the min­ing and milling of ura­nium.

So what is the ad talk­ing about? It is re­fer­ring to sites that have not been de­clared as nu­clear, such as sen­si­tive mil­i­tary lo­ca­tions. Un­der a side agree­ment be­tween Iran and the IAEA, Iran will help col­lect sam­ples at Parchin, which Tehran says is a con­ven­tional mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity, though the IAEA thinks ex­plo­sive trig­gers for nu­clear weapons may have been tested there. The IAEA sought ac­cess to the site to de­ter­mine whether there had been a mil­i­tary di­men­sion to Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

News re­ports have given con­tra­dic­tory in­for­ma­tion on what took place dur­ing a Septem­ber visit to Parchin by the IAEA. Of­fi­cials have said that Ira­nian tech­ni­cians played a role in ob­tain­ing the sam­ples— pos­si­bly with­out IAEA of­fi­cials present— but in­sisted that the ver­i­fi­ca­tion process was not com­pro­mised. Still, of­fi­cials have con­ceded that the ar­range­ment was a de­par­ture from the way the IAEA nor­mally con­ducts in­spec­tions.

In any case, the ad again greatly sim­pli­fies a com­plex is­sue. Un­der the deal, the de­clared nu­clear sites will be un­der con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing by in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors. But Iran and IAEA did con­clude an un­usual ac­cord re­gard­ing one un­de­clared site, which ap­pears to al­low Iran to help col­lect sam­ples.

“And gives Iran a path to a nu­clear bomb.”

In her state­ment, Cortez Masto noted that es­ti­mates sug­gest Iran is two to three months from ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon— and that this agree­ment would block its path for 15 years.

Un­der the ac­cord, Iran gives up all but 300 kilo­grams of its en­riched ura­nium (3 per­cent of what it had as of May) and agrees not to pro­duce plu­to­nium— two routes to a nu­clear weapon. It will give up a lot of nu­clear equip­ment and has agreed to lim­its on ura­nium en­rich­ment. But af­ter 15 years, many re­straints will end.

Rea­son­able peo­ple can dis­agree about whether this is ap­pro­pri­ate. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues that even af­ter 15 years, Iran’s break­out time would be lim­ited to one year — enough time to take ac­tion to thwart Tehran from build­ing a nu­clear weapon. But other es­ti­mates have sug­gested that, depend­ing on the equip­ment used by Iran, the break­out time could quickly dwin­dle to as lit­tle as a fewweeks. If cor­rect, that would make it very dif­fi­cult to halt Iran’s march to a nu­clear weapon— if its lead­ers were will­ing to risk in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions again.

Ul­ti­mately, this is am­at­ter of opin­ion, and re­spon­si­ble ex­perts on both sides of the de­bate have valid ar­gu­ments. There is no way of know­ing now whether the ac­cord will for­ever block Iran’s pur­suit of a nu­clear weapon. But the ad con­cludes with im­ages sug­gest­ing that nu­clear war is around the cor­ner.

The Pinocchio Test

This is an ad de­signed to frighten vot­ers into think­ing that CortezMasto has made a tragic for­eign-pol­icy blun­der that will lead to nu­clear con­flict. But the im­ages would be jus­ti­fied only if the case were as com­pelling as the NRSC sug­gests.

In­stead, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has ex­ag­ger­ated the charges and used mis­lead­ing lan­guage to make its case. With a fewtweaks in the word­ing and less stark im­ages, the NRSC could make a rea­son­able ar­gu­ment that sup­port­ing the nu­clear deal is a mis­take. But this ef­fort is a miss and thus earns Three Pinoc­chios.


Cather­ine CortezMasto, shown in 2013, is a Demo­cratic can­di­date for the U.S. Se­nate. An at­tack ad spon­sored by the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee at­tempts to paint her as a staunch sup­porter of the Iran nu­clear deal.

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