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House Intel Chairman says deal paves way for Iran bomb

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greets journalists

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif greets journalists from a balcony of the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria, site of closed-door nuclear talks, Monday, July 13, 2015. Photo Credit: AP

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says the historic Iran nuclear deal reached in Vienna Tuesday will secure Iran's pathway to a bomb and add to its capability to terrorize the West and the Middle East. 

Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told me Tuesday that President Barack Obama was incorrect in asserting that the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers will keep Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. 

"I don't know what information the Obama administration possesses that indicates this deal will actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon or will cause the mullahs to reduce their support for worldwide terrorism, but it sure isn't the same intelligence we're seeing in the Intelligence Committee," he said. "Iran has killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers, tried to conduct a terrorist attack in the United States, and is committed to annihilating Israel. This deal will guarantee Iran the capability to carry out its clear intent."   

Nunes's skepticism about the deal is supported in part by even some top military advisers and senior officials in the Obama administration. Last week in Israel, for example, General Martin Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said he expected some of the sanctions relief Iran will receive under the deal will go to supporting terrorism. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, wrote a letter last month to Republican senators confirming that Iran continues to support terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, creating a kind of foreign legion to support its aims in Syria. 

The White House has not emphasized Iran's support for terrorism in recent months. Instead, officials have stressed that most of the assets Iran would gain access to under a deal would be used to improve the country's economy.  Both Dempsey and Clapper have said in recent months that a deal that limits Iran's enrichment of uranium and provides more access to its nuclear program is better than no deal at all. 

President Obama touted the deal Tuesday. He said in an early morning statement, "The United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not -- a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon."  Nunes will be particularly important in the next few months, as Congress takes 60 days to review the nuclear agreement. As the intelligence committee chairman, he is in a unique position to check the assertions of the White House and the executive branch on whether technical methods such as overhead satellite imagery and signal intelligence collection can detect Iranian violations of the new agreement. 

The question of technical monitoring is particularly important in light of last-minute Western concessions over access to Iranian military sites. The old standard of "anytime, anywhere" inspections has now been replaced with "managed access," meaning Iran will have a say in how, when and where international inspectors will gain access to its military facilities.  In addition to his skepticism that the nuclear deal will actually stop Iran's program, Nunes noted that Obama's pursuit of the deal has united Israel with its traditional Arab rivals. "The Obama administration has achieved the rare feat of uniting Israel with a wide array of Arab nations. Unfortunately, the issue that unites them is opposition to the Iran deal," he said.

Early signs that Israel and Sunni Arab monarchies are working together emerged last month when Israeli and Saudi officials told the public they had held series of covert discussions to discuss the threat posed by Iran. The leader of the Israeli delegation, Dore Gold, last month rejoined government as the director-general of the foreign ministry.