WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, days away from deciding whether to withdraw from the multinational Iran nuclear deal, sided with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday after the prime minister, in a televised address, alleged that “Iran lied big time” about its nuclear weapons program before entering the 2015 accord.
Netanyahu, in a speech delivered in both English and Hebrew from Tel Aviv, said Israeli intelligence officials had seized “100,000 secret files” from Tehran that indicated Iran had lied about “never having a nuclear weapons program” before entering into the nuclear deal with other foreign powers including the United States, France, Britain and China.
“Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use,” Netanyahu said in a made-for-TV speech that featured a slideshow presentation with the words “Iran Lied” emblazoned on the screen.
The prime minister’s address came minutes before Trump addressed reporters at the White House at a joint news conference with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Asked about Netanyahu’s speech, Trump said he had only caught pieces of it, but from what he saw, it “showed that I’ve been 100 percent right.”
Trump has long railed against the nuclear agreement with Iran, signed under the Obama administration, calling it “weak” and “flawed.” On Monday he refused to say if Netanyahu’s speech had influenced his decision about whether to withdraw from the deal, saying he’d make his choice public by the May 12 deadline.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters. “I’m not telling you what I’m doing. A lot of people think they know.”
Netanyahu, who had long decried the deal, delivered his address just days after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in separate visits to the White House, urged Trump to remain in the deal, arguing that withdrawing would prompt Iran to further develop its nuclear weapons capabilities. The agreement offered Iran relief from crippling sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Netanyahu, aware of the mounting pressure on Trump to remain in the agreement, appeared to be directing his speech directly at Trump, noting that the president soon would be making a decision.
“I’m sure he’ll do the right thing,” Netanyahu said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a Sunday visit to Israel, signaled that Trump may be leaning more toward withdrawing from the deal, declaring that “the United States is with Israel in this fight.”
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, described Netanyahu’s speech as “a very childish and even a ridiculous play” that was aimed at influencing Trump’s decision.
Araghchi, appearing on Iranian state television, called Netanyahu’s speech “a prearranged show with the aim of impacting Trump’s decision,” according to Reuters.
Several American foreign policy experts said some details Netanyahu used as evidence Monday had been long known to U.S. intelligence officials. Robert Malley, who served on Obama’s National Security Council, tweeted that “there is nothing new in” Netanyahu’s presentation. “The Israeli prime minister has an audience of one: Trump,” Malley wrote.
Paul Fritz, a political science professor at Hofstra University specializing in foreign policy, said that while Netanyahu’s speech did not offer much new information beyond what U.S. intelligence officials have largely known since 2007, “politically it might give Trump more ammunition to pull out of the deal.”
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told reporters Monday that Netanyahu’s speech did not offer evidence that Iran has violated the agreement since 2015. “What I have seen from the first reports is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not put into question Iran’s compliance” of the deal, Mogherini said, according to The Associated Press.