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White House quietly corrects statement on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, hopes nobody will notice

The administration did not issue a formal correction or publicize the change.

The White House on Monday quietly changed a statement on Iran's nuclear capabilities, dramatically shifting its stance, with little fanfare. (CREDIT: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The White House on Monday quietly changed a statement on Iran's nuclear capabilities, dramatically shifting its stance, with little fanfare. (CREDIT: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The White House issued a significant correction to an earlier statement it had made regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities on Monday night, shifting its stance dramatically, with little fanfare.

On Monday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference during which he laid out a trove of documents he claimed proved Iran was running a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “Iran lied, big time,” he said.

In response to that presentation, the White House issued its own statement to reporters at around 7:30 p.m., according to CNN, condemning the “new” findings.

“The United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote in an official statement. “These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”

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As the day wore on, however, it became obvious that the information Netanyahu had presented to the public was actually outdated — most of it from the period between 1993 and 2003, The Atlantic notes — and likely part of a broader scheme to convince Trump to withdraw the United States from the Iran agreement. An assessment by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday, as well as one he gave in October, also contradicted Netanyahu’s claim that the nuclear deal was ineffective.

The White House, perhaps hoping to avoid an incident, subsequently took stock of its situation and quietly issued a minor, but drastic correction to its initial statement at around 9:30 p.m. Monday night, posting the amended version to the WhiteHouse.gov website.

“These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known,” the new statement read. “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”

The subtle swap from “has” to “had” shifted the tone of the statement substantially, pushing the administration’s accusation from the present to the past tense.

The White House, unsurprisingly, did not issue a formal correction or publicize the change.

After multiple outlets made note of the differences between the two statements, the White House on Tuesday told reporters that the original wording had simply been the result of a “clerical error.”

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“The original White House statement included a clerical error, which we quickly detected and fixed. To be clear, the United States has long known that Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program,” a National Security Council spokesman told CNN.

White House spokespersons did not elaborate on the issue or explain why the statement appeared not to have been vetted with State Department officials before it was sent to the media.

President Trump has long voiced his displeasure with the Iran deal, which he views as inefficient and unfair. On April 23, during a televised press conference at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump called the deal “insane” and “ridiculous,” and said it should never have been made.

“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th,” Trump told reporters, referring to the upcoming periodic review deadline on May 12, by which time the president must decide whether or not to renew the deal, which lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a scale-back of its enrichment program. “This is a deal with decayed foundations. It’s a bad deal, it’s a bad structure, it’s falling down. It should have never, ever been made.”

However, recent analysis by the Trump administration’s own State Department proves that the president’s claims of a crumbling framework are largely unfounded. According to the 2018 Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments report, issued on April 17, Iran has “taken significant steps to stop and roll back key elements of its ongoing civil nuclear program” since signing on to the 2015 nuclear deal, eliminating nearly its entire stockpile of enriched uranium in accordance with international mandates.

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Additionally, the report noted, Iran has “allowed IAEA inspectors daily access to enrichment facilities when requested and permitted continuous monitoring of other declared key nuclear-related facilities, including uranium mines, mills, and centrifuge production and storage facilities” — in line with Defense Secretary Mattis’ earlier assertions.

Despite this, the Trump administration has hinted it may, at the very least, pursue a new deal regardless.

“If there’s no chance that we can fix it, I will recommend to the president that we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and a better deal, even after May 12,” newly minted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a confirmation hearing earlier in April. “Even after May 12, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”