GOP presidential hopefuls Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Ron Paul (R-TX) engaged in a heated exchange about Iran’s nuclear program during last night’s debate. The disagreement hinged on Bachmann’s statement that a recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report provided evidence that Iran is a “few months” away from building a nuclear weapon:
MICHELE BACHMANN: The problem would be the greatest under reaction in world history if we have an avowed madman who uses that nuclear weapon to wipe nations off the face of the Earth. And we have an IAEA report, that just recently came out, that said, literally, that Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that weapon. [...]
RON PAUL: There is no U.N. report that said that. It’s totally wrong what you just said. That is not true. They produced information that led you to believe that but they have no evidence. There’s been no enrichment.
BACHMANN: If we agree with that the United States’ people could be at risk.
CNN’s “Truth Squad” examined the exchange and concluded: “The IAEA report does not say that Iran is within months of being able to obtain a nuclear weapon. So Bachmann is wrong.” CNN also pointed out that Paul’s assertion that “they have no evidence” may also be wrong.
Indeed the IAEA flagged a number of dual use technologies under development by the Iranians that could have military applications. But neither the IAEA nor reporting on current U.S. intelligence estimates suggest that Iran is anywhere near having the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon in a matter of months.
CNN isn’t the only news organization to fact check claims that Iran has committed to building a nuclear weapon. Republican presidential candidates are increasingly making statements suggesting that an Iranian nuclear weapon is all but a foregone conclusion and that U.S. led airstrikes or, according to Jon Huntsman, a ground invasion is the only way to prevent Iran from destabilizing the region with nukes.
Last week, The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, addressed a similar controversy and concluded, “[T]he IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.”