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What do Israel’s accusations mean for the Iran nuclear deal?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of lying about its past nuclear weapons ambitions, claiming that the government continues to pursue nuclear weapons development. In Tel Aviv, Netanyahu urged President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the deal. William Brangham talks with David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today accused Iran's government of "brazenly lying" about its past nuclear weapons ambitions.

    Speaking in Tel Aviv today, Netanyahu said recovered documents prove that Tehran did have a secret nuclear weapons program before it signed the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

    He also claimed that Iran's government is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons development, and he urged President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the deal before the upcoming May 12 deadline.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu:

    So, this is a terrible deal. It never should have been concluded. And in a few days' time, President Trump will decide, will make a decision on what to do with the nuclear deal. I'm sure he will do the right thing, the right thing for the United States, the right thing for Israel and the right thing for the peace of the world.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Minutes later, Mr. Trump held a joint news conference alongside Nigeria's president.

    Mr. Trump, who spoke with Netanyahu by phone last night, added that today's presentation only added to his own skepticism of the Iran deal.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm not telling you what I'm doing, but a lot of people think they know. And on or before the 12th, we will make a decision.

    That doesn't mean we won't negotiate a real agreement. I think, if anything, what's happening today and what's happened over the last little while and what we have learned has really shown that I have been 100 percent right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Iranian officials denounced Netanyahu. And a state-run news agency in Iran said he is "famous for ridiculous shows."

    For more on all this, William Brangham is back.

  • William Brangham:

    So, does Israel's presentation today add to our understanding of Iran's nuclear ambitions, and what does this mean for the Iran deal going forward?

    For that, I'm joined now by physicist and former arms control inspector David Albright. He's currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • David Albright:

    Good to be here.

  • William Brangham:

    So, that was quite a presentation that Netanyahu put on today.

    The Israelis allegedly got into this secret building in Tehran and got out tens of thousands of documents and files pertaining to Iran's older nuclear program. First off, do you believe that this cache that they have is real and, if so, what does this tell us? How big a deal is this?

  • David Albright:

    Well, it's hard to know.

    Is it real? The Israelis make it clear that the U.S. will vouch for it. The U.S. has the complete set. So I would start by assuming it is real. And the Israelis are quite capable of getting into Tehran.

    It's pretty remarkable what they did to get into a warehouse and remove that much information and get it out of Iran, so it's quite an intelligence coup.

    And it is a — Israelis make it clear, it's a huge amount of information. It surprised them how wide and deep the Iranian nuclear weapons program, just how many things they didn't know about, I mean, is a constant message today from the Israelis.

    So — and they have only begun the assessment. They have obtained these documents, they said, several weeks ago.

  • William Brangham:

    Some people have been pointing out today that some of the details that Netanyahu addressed are not necessarily new, the scientists involved, the name of the original program, that we knew a lot of this information already.

    Republican Senator Bob Corker today, who himself is a strong critic of Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, said there is nothing really new here. Do you think that there is something new?

  • David Albright:

    Yes. Well, there is. There is a lot of new information.

    Now, the Israelis revealed several pots of information, one of which is the archive itself is of the pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, which included instructions to archive it, write down everything you have learned, and then write down what you didn't learn and what we need to work on in the future, in a sense, to fill the gaps in.

    And the Israelis said, when they looked down in their information, they saw that the programs actually did exist in Iran. They also said that, since the Iran deal was developed or finalized, that Iran has moved the archives, it's tending to the archives. It's under a stewardship program.

    And so it's a very valuable collection, and the Israelis would say, why would they go to that trouble if they don't intend to use it in the future, at least to maintain an option to use it in the future?

  • William Brangham:

    But is simply hoarding documents that pertain to your older nuclear program in itself a violation of the Iran deal?

  • David Albright:

    I think lawyers are going to have to argue that.

    My experience involved in the uncovering of other nuclear weapons programs is the hoarding of documents to this extent would essentially say to you that they are hiding a nuclear weapons program.

  • William Brangham:

    Saving them for another day.

  • David Albright:

    And saving them for another day. If we looked at the South African program and they had done such a thing when they got rid of their nuclear weapons, or if Libya had done the same thing when they got rid of their nuclear weapons program, people would have screamed bloody murder.

  • William Brangham:

    Some people have said today that we knew all along, even though Iran denied it, that they had a nuclear program going before, and that the whole point of the Iranian nuclear deal was to curtail those ambitions and to put in strict oversight, so that they wouldn't expand it.

    And so could you read this revelation today as further reasons to keep the deal intact, which is the opposite of what the Israelis are arguing?

  • David Albright:

    Yes. No, I think you can.

    You can argue that this is now the chance to really nail Iran on its violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to get them to reveal the program, get rid of it, and allow long-term monitoring of the facilities and people that were involved in the program.

    So, you can — and having the nuclear deal in place is good. But, on the other hand, because this archive seems to be kept to use in the future, it actually is a little chilling about the sunsets that we face in the Iran nuclear deal. They look a little more deadly.

  • William Brangham:

    This is the parts of the deal that will disappear and relieve Iran of some of the strict oversight in coming years.

  • David Albright:

    That's right.

  • William Brangham:

    The timing of this also seems important.

    In about 10 days, President Trump has to certify whether the Iranians have been living up to their end of the bargain. Clearly seems that Netanyahu, who cannot stand this deal, would like the president to be swayed by this. Do you think this is going to work?

  • David Albright:

    If this audience essentially was won for this, for Netanyahu, I think he's trying to convince Iran to walk away from the deal and hand him a more substantive nuclear reason to do so.

    So I think, whether he succeeds in that, I don't know. I think President Trump has also said that he's open to fix the deal. And his negotiators are working probably as we speak to fix the deal as he's outlined.

    And this revelation by Israel today doesn't eliminate the fixes that can be done. I would argue it could strengthen the ability to fix this deal. But, again, we will have to see.

  • William Brangham:

    David Albright, thank you very much.

  • David Albright:

    Thank you.

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