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US Intel Officials Under Pressure to Justify Decertifying Iran on JCPOA

US Intel Officials Under Pressure to Justify Decertifying Iran on JCPOA US Intel Officials Under Pressure to Justify Decertifying Iran on JCPOA

The White House is pressing intelligence officials to put forward a justifiable option for US President Donald Trump to declare Iran in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the same mentality that led to the US invasion of Iraq.

Those officials are said to be resisting the pressure as they are chastened by the experience of the 2003 Iraq war, former US officials and analysts were quoted as saying in a Guardian article published on Monday.    

The Iraq war was launched by the Bush administration on the basis of phony evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

"Anecdotally, I have heard this from members of the intelligence community that they feel like they have come under pressure," said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who also served under Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor, as a national security council spokesman and special presidential assistant.

"They told me there was a sense of revulsion. There was a sense of déjà vu. There was a sense of 'we've seen this movie before.'"

However, Trump has said he expects to declare Iran in non-compliance by mid-October, the deadline for the next quarterly certification of the nuclear pact he is required to sign by Congress and the administration is pursuing another avenue that could result in the collapse of the deal.

David Cohen, a former deputy director of CIA, said it was "disconcerting" Trump appeared to have jumped to a conclusion about Iran before finding the intelligence to back it up.

"It stands the intelligence process on its head," Cohen told CNN. "If our intelligence is degraded because it is politicized in the way that it looks like the president wants to do here, that undermines the utility of that intelligence all across the board."

In another move reminiscent of the Iraq debacle, the US administration is pushing for more aggressiveness on the part of the International Atomic Energy Agency in its demands to investigate military facilities in Iran, just as George W Bush's team pressed for ever more intrusive inspections of Saddam Hussein's military bases and palaces.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, was in Vienna last week for meetings with IAEA officials, which she acknowledged were aimed at pressuring the agency to seek access to Iran's military sites.

"Iran has publicly declared that it will not allow access to military sites but the JCPOA makes no distinction between military and non-military sites. There are also numerous undeclared sites that have not been inspected yet. That's a problem," Haley told reporters upon returning to New York.

JCPOA stands for the formal title of the pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

  No Incriminating Evidence

Unlike the case of Iraq and the Bush administration, where there were deep divisions in the US intelligence community over the evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there is now a general consensus among US intelligence and foreign intelligence agencies, the state department, the IAEA and the other five countries that signed the JCPOA, as well as the European Union, that there is no substantial evidence that Iran has broken its JCPOA obligations.

However, Trump, who repeatedly attacked the action plan throughout his election campaign, appears determined to dismantle it.

He signed off on July's certification of Iran's compliance begrudgingly at the last minute, following repeated appeals from senior national security officials.

Trump has said his administration was doing "major" and "detailed" studies on the issues.

Richard Nephew, who was principal duty coordinator for sanctions policy in the Obama administration state department and a member of the team that negotiated JCPOA, said government agencies were producing such studies all the time.

He said the difference under the Trump administration was that they were being told what the conclusions should be.

"Behind the scenes, there is a huge machine that is pumping up reports and updates and status checks for the administration and Congress," Nephew, now at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said.

"You have intelligence officers and analysts in a bunch of agencies who spend literally every day scrubbing every single report they have got of what is going on inside Iran trying to find instances of non-compliance.

"What I suspect is happening now is that those intel officers have been asked to go to the cutting room floor, [and are being asked:] 'What have you forgotten? What have you discounted? What have you said doesn't really fit and not really relevant?'

"I actually think that's healthy if it's an honest question," Nephew said, but he added: "It seems there is a faction within the administration that is trying to lay the basis for getting out [of the agreement] on the basis of cooked books."

Nephew predicted that intelligence analysts would resign if they were pushed too hard.

 

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