Iran took up a big part of the foreign policy discussion during the presidential debate on Monday. But some of what Hillary Clinton said was not true.
“With respect to Iran, when I became Secretary of State, Iran was weeks away from having enough nuclear material to form a bomb,” Clinton began during the debate. “They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle under the Bush administration. They had built covert facilities. They had stocked them with centrifuges that were whirling away.”
LobeLog has perhaps one of the best debunks of Hillary Clinton’s views toward Iran — much of which she repeated during the debate on Monday.
This isn’t the first time that she made the claim that Iran was weeks away from a nuclear weapon. In a speech at the Brookings Institution last September, she said that by the time she became Secretary of State, “Iran was racing toward a nuclear capability.” But as Peter Jenkins notes for LobeLog, “By the time Clinton took office in January 2009, at least five years had elapsed since Iran had abandoned research into nuclear weapons and fourteen months had passed since the director of national intelligence had made knowledge of that available to the nation.”
Iran has never been “weeks away” from having a nuclear weapon. U.S. intelligence agencies (and even Israeli ones) have repeatedly confirmed that Iran was not moving to build a bomb — and that includes when Clinton became Secretary of State.
Clinton’s claim on Monday that Iran was building “covert facilities” when she became Secretary of State was also false.
Again, as Jenkins notes, when Clinton took office in January 2009, almost six years had passed since the Natanz enrichment facility was declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — making it definitely not covert. There has been no proof that Iran was or is building more covert facilities since Natanz was declared to the IAEA in 2003. The Fordow Fuel Enrichment, near the city of Qom, was declared to the IAEA in 2009, far before it was operational, and uranium enrichment did not begin at the facility till over two years later, in January 2012. IAEA chief Mohammad Elbaradei called it nothing but a “hole in a mountain” after Iran declared it to the IAEA.
Clinton’s claims that Iran’s nuclear program was rapidly growing were set up in order to show off the achievements of the Iran nuclear agreement which was reached last July — a deal which negotiations began on far after she left office.
“I spent a year and a half putting together a coalition that included Russia and China to impose the toughest sanctions on Iran,” Clinton said during the debate. And we did drive them to the negotiating table and my successor, John Kerry, and President Obama got a deal that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program. Without firing a single shot. That’s diplomacy.”
The Iran Deal was certainly a milestone achievement for President Obama’s foreign policy. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, since the deal took effect:
Iran has reduced 98 percent of its uranium stockpile, dismantled thousands of centrifuges, limited uranium enrichment and R&D, and removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and filled it with cement. IAEA safeguards are in place for the country’s 18 nuclear facilities, as well as nine other locations where nuclear material is used.
But the sanctions Clinton worked so hard to bring about were not what brought Iran to the negotiating table. Iran had been at the negotiating table for quite some time — including before the sanctions Clinton worked to pass in the United Nations in 2010.
And as Laura Rozen reported for Al-Monitor last year:
While nuclear negotiations only made rapid progress after [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani came into office in August 2013 and tapped Mohammad Javad Zarif as his foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator, it is perhaps less well known that Iran’s hard-line Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei authorized secret talks with the United States on the nuclear issue two years earlier, in 2011, at the urging of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos as well as [former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar] Salehi.
As independent political analyst Nima Shirazi has noted, the real diplomatic breakthrough came when the United States stopped trying to prevent Iran from enriching any uranium — something that isn’t currently banned under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory.
But even if sanctions were what brought Iran to the negotiating table, and made the Iranian nuclear agreement possible, Clinton also called for more sanctions the same day that the deal went into effect.
This piece has been updated to address the Fordow nuclear facility in Iran.