Los Angeles Times

Keep Iran deal, CIA tells Trump

Agency director says scrapping nuclear pact would benefit Tehran and spur an arms race.

- By Brian Bennett brian.bennett@latimes.com

— Senior U.S. intelligen­ce officials are increasing­ly concerned that President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal would bolster hard-liners in Tehran and spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Over the last month, U.S. intelligen­ce analysts have written secret reports on the possible effects if the next administra­tion abandoned or in effect sabotaged the arms control accord, as Trump has vowed to do during the campaign.

The concerns broke into the open Wednesday when CIA Director John Brennan issued a blunt public warning, saying it would be the “height of folly” and “disastrous” for Trump to scrub a deal that has blocked Iran’s nuclear developmen­t.

Brennan told BBC TV that revoking the agreement could allow Iran to resume its now-halted nuclear program and spur other countries in the Middle East to develop or acquire nuclear weapons for protection.

“I think it would be disastrous” for Trump to jettison the deal, Brennan said.

“It could lead to a weapons program inside Iran that could lead other states in the region to embark on their own programs, so I think it would be the height of folly if the next administra­tion were to tear up that agreement,” Brennan said.

He did not name other countries, but Saudi Arabia, Iran’s staunch rival, is especially fearful of a nucleararm­ed Iran given Tehran’s aggressive pursuit of regional influence and power.

It is extremely rare for the CIA director to issue a public warning to an incoming administra­tion, and it suggests deep concerns within the intelligen­ce community about Trump’s intentions.

Trump has delayed receiving more than a handful of in-depth intelligen­ce briefings since election day, and it’s unclear whether he’s been given the classified details of the Iran deal, including monitoring systems put in place to verify Iranian compliance.

Brennan suggested that the president-elect may be drawing his informatio­n from unreliable sources.

“There are a lot of people out there who read the papers and listened to news broadcasts where the facts may be a bit — you know — off,” Brennan told the BBC.

“I want to make sure the new team understand­s what the reality is. It ultimately will be up to them to decide how to carry out their responsibi­lities,” he said.

During the campaign, Trump variously promised to dismantle or revise the 2015 deal, which curbed Iran’s ability to build or acquire nuclear weapons for at least a decade in exchange for an easing of sanctions on its trade, finances and oil industry.

Trump repeatedly described the accord as “a disaster” and suggested he would rip it up and “double up and triple up” sanctions on Iran.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Trump’s choice to replace Brennan as CIA chief, have been vocal critics as well.

“I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” Pompeo tweeted on Nov. 17.

Critics have complained that negotiatio­ns focused only on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and not on Tehran’s support for Hezbollah militias in Lebanon, Houthi rebels in Yemen and other issues of concern.

Proponents argued that stopping Iran from building a nuclear arsenal was the overriding priority and that U.S. sanctions remain on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups.

The Iran deal apparently was a major topic when Trump met with President Obama for more than an hour at the White House two days after the election.

Obama told reporters later that imposing new U.S. sanctions on Iran while it remains in compliance would open a rift with the other major signatorie­s to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

He urged Trump and other Republican critics “to look at the facts because to unravel a deal that’s working and preventing Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon would be hard to explain, particular­ly if the alternativ­e were to have them free from any obligation­s and go ahead and pursue a weapWASHIN­GTON on.”

Obama said “over a year of evidence” shows Iran has complied with the deal. He said intelligen­ce and military agencies in Israel, which opposed the deal, have also assessed that Iran has not violated its terms.

U.S. officials say Iran has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium, placed most of its centrifuge­s in storage and disabled a reactor capable of producing plutonium as bomb fuel.

The Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency, has found that Iran has exceeded a limit of socalled heavy water used in existing reactors. The violations were not major enough to trigger a renewal of sanctions under the deal.

“We are keeping a very close eye on what Iran is doing,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligen­ce Committee, said in a telephone interview. “It is one of our top intelligen­ce priorities.”

If Trump backs out of the deal, Tehran would be able to restart its nuclear program “with very little the U.S. could do about it,” Schiff said.

Robert M. Gates, a former CIA chief and secretary of Defense, has called for preserving the deal even though he said last year that the U.S. was “out-negotiated” by the Iranians.

“It would be a mistake to tear up the agreement at this point,” Gates said Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” “I think we would be the ones isolated, not the Iranians, because none of our partners who helped to negotiate that would walk away from it. But I think what the new president can do is push back against the Iranians.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States