President Donald Trump woke up on Tuesday and decided to complain about the number of Iranians who received U.S. citizenship during the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Trump’s complaints appear to be based on an article he read, which was based on another article, which was based on another article on the views of an Iranian hardline politician.
“Just out that the Obama administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians – including to government officials,” Trump tweeted. “How big (and bad) is that?”
He didn’t clarify if he was complaining about 2,500 Iranians over the course of more than two years, which is how long it took to negotiate the nuclear agreement.
Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians – including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
Let’s first start with the obvious issue in this tweet, which is that there is no context to explain why Iranians getting citizenship is “big (and bad).” Coming from the president of the United States, this could lead to real consequences for Iranians living in the United States or those perceived to be Iranian.
But another big problem is that Trump isn’t seeking immigration data from his own government — say, from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the State Department, for example.
Instead, Trump is likely referring to a Fox News article, based on another article, based on another interview with a hardline Iranian politician, who first mentioned the unconfirmed figure.
Mojtaba Zolnour, a hardline member of Iran’s parliament and a strong critic of Iran’s president, cited the figure in an interview with Iran’s reformist newspaper Etemad after being asked whether the Iranian society can look domestically to fix its issues.
He took the opportunity to complain about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, implying that his administration sacrificed Iranian national security interests during the Iranian nuclear negotiations to secure U.S. citizenship for themselves.
“When Mr. Obama, during the negotiations over the [Iran deal] decided to do a favor to these men, he granted citizenship to 2,500 Iranians and some men and officials started a competition over whose children could be part of these 2,500 individuals,” Zolnour said. “If today these Iranians get deported from America, it will become clear who is complicit and is selling the national interest like candy to America.”
Iran’s Fars News Agency, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards, chose to circulate this one part of the interview in an article. On Monday, Fox News elevated the story, citing Fars. Fox News Host Sean Hannity also shared the story on his own website and on Twitter, claiming it was “developing,” even though the negotiations over the Iran deal ended almost three years ago.
As Radio Farda reported, Zolnour has been working with other MPs to “prove that dual nationals have infiltrated the Iranian government.”
Officials Fox News spoke to said that there is no basis for Zolnour’s claim.
“This sounds like totally made up BS,” Marie Harf, a senior adviser to former Secretary of State John Kerry, told Fox News.
A current State Department spokesperson also told Fox News that “We’re not going to comment on every statement by an Iranian official.”
Former Obama administration officials condemned the report and Trump’s tweet on Tuesday.
“This allegation is outlandish and entirely false,” Ned Price, who previously served on the National Security Council, said on Twitter. “What it lacks in truth, it makes up for in irony, as our ‘state media’ is seizing on Iranian state media, and both are giving an unchallenged platform to our countries’ respective extremists.”
“This an absurd and false allegation,” Jeffrey Prescott, the former senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Persian Gulf states on the National Security Council, said on Twitter. “It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that this is a case of Donald Trump parroting Fox News, which is peddling the claims of an Iranian hardliner.”
“This is just a big lie. It’s not true,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. “Yet I’m guessing that this context will be missing from Trump’s propaganda media machine.”
Iranian journalists, for their part, were both shocked and amused by the tweet.
“Did Trump read the Etemad newspaper or the Fox News translation of Etemad’s interview with Mojtaba Zolnour?” asked Iranian journalist Sara Massoumi.
Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who previously served as the newspaper’s Tehran bureau chief and was imprisoned during the Iran nuclear negotiations, expressed disbelief that Trump would “quote propaganda.”
— Jason Rezaian (@jrezaian) July 3, 2018
Zolnour might be interested to learn that Trump is now citing his views. After Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May, Zolnour responded by burning a U.S. flag in front of the parliament.
As Fox News acknowledged, DHS figures show that the number of people born in Iran who received U.S. citizenship actually decreased by about 8 percent from 2015 to 2016, when the Iran deal went into effect. In 2015, 10,344 Iranians became naturalized citizens, and only 9,507 in 2016.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece stated that the Iranian nuclear negotiations took place over three years. The JCPOA was actually negotiated over the course of slightly more than two years.