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White House differs with intelligence community on Iran nuclear deal

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President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, on Monday again broke with the US intelligence community’s consensus regarding Iran’s nuclear program, less than two weeks after Trump publicly berated the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, for saying Iran wasn’t looking to build a nuclear weapon.

“This week Iran marks the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and what a 40 years it’s been, tyrannizing its own people and terrorizing the world,” Bolton said in an address posted on the White House’s Twitter account.

“Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons to intimidate peaceful people all around the globe and ballistic missiles to use as delivery systems,” Bolton added.

Bolton’s statement that Iran continues to seek a nuclear weapon contradicts the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Tehran’s nuclear programs as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Iranians at a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution as one of them holds a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, at the Azadi, or Freedom Square, in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2019.
(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

It also directly clashes with Coats, whose recent Worldwide Threat Assessment said the US’s top spies and analysts “continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

Coats’ report, and his testimony before Congress about his findings, drew a swift response from Trump, who has long accused Iran of continuing work on nuclear weapons.

“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!” Trump tweeted, adding: “Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

Read more:Trump lashes out at his intel chiefs after they contradict his views on global threats

After the scolding, Trump took a photo with Coats and other intelligence officials in the White House and blamed the media for distorting Coats’ testimony.

“I value our intelligence community,” Trump tweeted with the pictures. “Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!”

But as of Monday, the White House continues to say Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, contradicting Coats’ report.

The White House’s self-fulfilling prophecy

In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency Office, President Hassan Rouhani, left, speaks as he is accompanied by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi on a visit to the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno

Coats’ report says “Iranian officials have publicly threatened to reverse some of Iran’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commitments—and resume nuclear activities that the JCPOA limits—if Iran does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected from the deal,” but stops short of saying Iran is currently looking to build the bomb.

Because Trump’s reimposition of sanctions on Iran has severely clipped the “tangible trade and investment benefits it expected from the deal,” most experts agree the nuclear deal is in danger and Iran could quickly resume work on a nuclear bomb, but there’s little evidence today that it’s working on a nuclear weapon.

Read more:Trump has his cake and eats it too with sanctions tanking Iran’s economy and oil staying low

Trump has long drawn scrutiny for ignoring the findings of the US intelligence community, including by appearing to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own government on whether Moscow had helped Trump win the 2016 election.

A veiled threat from the White House

US Marines firing a howitzer in Syria.
US Marine Corps

Bolton has long advocated bombing Iran and was one of the architects of the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq based on flawed intelligence that indicated the country was working to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran has also repeatedly threatened the US military and Israel with total destruction.

Read more:Iran built copies of a Soviet-era nuclear-capable missile without violating the nuclear deal

The rest of Bolton’s address mainly stuck to established facts — many of which Coats warns about in his report.

Bolton pointed to Iran’s ballistic-missile program as a potential flashpoint. Also on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reaffirmed his country’s commitment to creating ballistic missiles, which could indeed function as delivery vehicles for nuclear devices.

Bolton also called out Iran for its financing of US-designated terror groups and repeated the US’s long-held stance that Iran is the world’s top financier of terrorism.

Bolton concluded with a veiled threat to Iran’s leadership that was very much in keeping with Trump’s suggestions of military action against Tehran.

“So Ayatollah Khamenei, for all your boasts, for all your threats to the life of the American president, you are responsible for terrorizing your own people and terrorizing the world as a whole,” Bolton said, addressing Iran’s supreme leader.

“I don’t think you’ll have many more anniversaries to enjoy,” Bolton added.

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