Former President Donald Trump’s final spy chief argued there is “no intelligence” supporting the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear deal as the Biden administration calls on a defiant Tehran to come back into compliance.
As President Biden explores the prospect of rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, John Ratcliffe, who served as the director of national intelligence, said Monday that the U.S. should not loosen any sanctions on Iran or rejoin the deal that the U.S. left in 2018 during the Trump administration.
“I know where the intelligence says it shouldn’t be headed, which is that we shouldn’t lifting sanctions on Iran under any circumstances because the intelligence doesn’t support changing the current policy at all,” Ratcliffe told Martha MacCallum of Fox News on Monday. “Within days after Joe Biden became President-elect Biden, he talked about wanting to return to the Iranian nuclear deal“ but that “my hope was that once he started to receive intelligence briefings, he would change his mind because there’s no intelligence to support that.”
Insisting “the intelligence shows” that Iran “is weaker, poorer, and less influential in the Middle East than they’ve been in decades,” Ratcliffe said that “peace agreements between Israel and Bahrain and UAE would not have been possible in the past, but Iran is not in a position to bully their Middle East neighbors, and as a result, American troops are safer, the Middle East is safer, and there really isn’t any justification, certainly no intelligence, that would warrant going back to an Iranian nuclear deal.”
The Fox interview came one day after the pre-Super Bowl airing of a CBS News interview with Biden. Journalist Norah O’Donnell asked the president if the U.S. would lift sanctions on Iran first to get the country back to the negotiating table, and Biden replied with a flat “no.” When asked if Iran had to cease enriching uranium first, Biden nodded affirmatively.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden meant that Iran would first need to lower its enrichment to the 3.67% concentration level allowable under the Iran deal, not stop enriching uranium entirely.
“I think if we were announcing a major policy change, we would do it in a different way than a slight head nod,” Psaki told reporters. “But overall, his position remains exactly what it has been, which is that if Iran comes into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same and then use that as a platform to build a larger and stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued in a CNN interview that aired Sunday that since the U.S. “violated the deal … it is for the United States to return to the deal, to implement its obligations.” Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also s aid that “if the U.S. wants Iran to return to its commitments, it must lift all sanctions in practice, then we will do verification … then we will return to our commitments.”
The Iran deal was reached between the “P5+1” (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.), the European Union, and Iran in June 2015.
Trump pulled the U.S. out in May 2018, saying, “In theory, the so-called ‘Iran deal’ was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb … In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and, over time, reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.”
Iran received an influx of billions in cash as a result of the Iran nuclear deal, including a jet carrying $400 million in euros and Swiss francs, another $1.3 billion in cash, the release of up to $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets, and the lifting of international sanctions. The Trump administration pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, including new sanctions.
Iran said it resumed its 20% uranium enrichment in January after Iran’s parliament passed a law late last year vowing to block International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of nuclear sites if U.S. sanctions aren’t lifted. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in January that “the Iranian regime is using its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.” It was revealed in early February that the IAEA found evidence of potential undeclared nuclear activity at sites last fall.
Biden, who says he delivered a tough message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, also said he “hadn’t had occasion” to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping yet, saying that “he’s very bright, he’s very tough, he doesn’t have — and I don’t mean it as a criticism, just the reality — he doesn’t have a democratic, small ‘d,’ bone in his body.”
Ratcliffe pointed to the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged cover-up of the coronavirus, a pandemic which has been attributed more than 464,000 deaths in the U.S., and said that “if the intelligence showed that Russia had done what China had done, you know, I can’t imagine what the rhetoric would be out of the Biden administration right now.” He added that “China and China alone is our greatest national security threat.”
Elsewhere in the CBS interview, Biden said “there is no need” for Trump to get the intelligence briefings offered to former presidents, pointing to “his erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection.” Psaki said Monday that Biden “has deep trust in his own intelligence team to make a determination about how to provide intelligence information if at any point the former president requests a briefing.”
In response, Ratcliffe said there is “no reason” Trump shouldn’t get intelligence briefings, claiming that Biden is “politicizing intelligence, and it’s going to lead to the further politicization of intelligence in the future” — including a future Republican president denying briefings to former Democratic presidents.
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