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Israel's Prime Minister Levies New Accusations Against Iran On Nuclear Weapons


We're going to look more closely now at the accusations Israel levied today against Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's intelligence has uncovered thousands of secret Iranian documents showing the country hid plans to expand its nuclear weapons program. And the prime minister says it should prove that Iran cannot be trusted to hold up its end of the 2015 nuclear deal. For more, we turn to Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution. She once served as an adviser to the State Department on Iran issues. Welcome to the program.

SUZANNE MALONEY: Thanks so much.

CORNISH: You said that the public release of decades of files on Iran's nuclear program is a watershed moment. What's the significance?

MALONEY: Well, I think we now have public documentation of what most in the international community assumed to be the case over the course of the long nuclear crisis - that Iran's program was never intended, as its leaders said, for the peaceful development of civilian nuclear energy but, in fact, was a military program intended to produce a nuclear weapons capability. That's something that, I think, all of the parties to the agreement understood very clearly, but we've never had public corroboration in terms of the full archive of the Iranian nuclear program.

CORNISH: Yet on Twitter, it sounds like you very much disagreed with the assessment from the prime minister - that this should somehow derail the nuclear agreement. How come?

MALONEY: Well, I think what Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to establish today and what he certainly said in the past is that the Iranians cannot be trusted - that they have somehow cheated their way into a deal they didn't deserve. And I think that anyone who understands the 159 pages of text that lay out the terms of this agreement appreciates that Iran's nuclear capabilities are better under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the robust set of verification and monitoring measures that were put in place as a result of the deal. And so I think, if anything, what the prime minister laid out today really reinforces the utility of the agreement that we have in place.

CORNISH: That is not the read, necessarily, from the White House. President Trump called the assessment from Israel 100 percent right, and he - as we heard in audio earlier - has still more skepticism about this deal. How do you see this affecting the conversation going forward?

MALONEY: Well, I think the presentation today by Prime Minister Netanyahu surely resonated with President Trump, who has also argued on repeated occasions that the United States, essentially, was hoodwinked by Tehran in the negotiation and that there's a better deal to be had. He is prepared, I think, to walk away from the deal when he is poised to make a decision on the continuing adherence to the agreement as required by waiving sanctions next week. We've all been poised waiting for this decision. And I think what we're seeing today is a president who feels more secure in his own mind that Iran is not a country that can be trusted - that he himself maybe has produced a set of circumstances that may lead to a resolution of North Korea's nuclear program. And he may be even more inclined to move in a direction that sets the United States and Iran on a path to, I think, what will be a very dangerous situation.

CORNISH: What are you going to be listening for going forward?

MALONEY: Well, the president's hearing from multiple voices. He had European leaders in town last week trying to persuade him to stick to the deal. He's - Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, and other uniform military leaders have spoken out in favor of sustaining the agreement as a necessary element of addressing one piece of the Iranian challenge. But I think all eyes are now really on the president. The decision is his and his alone to make. And he's clearly reveling in this moment and keeping the world dangling by a thread to hear what he will decide.

CORNISH: That's Suzanne Maloney of Brookings. Thanks so much.

MALONEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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