Ben Rhodes Admits Obama Administration Lied To Sell Iran Deal

A senior official in the Obama administration acknowledged that the background to nuclear talks with Iran was misrepresented in order to sell the impression of a more moderate Iranian regime and thus gain greater American public support for an agreement.

The revelation came in a profile of Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes written by New York Times reporter David Samuels and published on Thursday.

In the same piece, former CIA head Leon Panetta speculated that whereas US President Barack Obama may once have been prepared to use military force to stop the development of an Iranian bomb, he doubts the same resolve exists today.

In conversations with Rhodes, Samuels learned how the administration claimed that key talks with Iran began in 2013, after the election of a seemingly more moderate Iranian government led by Hassan Rouhani, when in fact negotiations had begun and formed the basis of what was to become Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action months earlier in 2012 under the previous hard-line Iranian presidency.

In July 2015, Iran and world powers inked the JCPOA, in which Tehran agreed to dismantle weapons producing elements of its nuclear program in return for the lifting of severe economic sanctions.

Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as many in the Senate, fiercely opposed the deal, which they said did not go far enough in removing Iran’s ability to attain a nuclear weapons capability.

Rhodes explained how policies were considered in which reconciliation with adversaries trumped pleasing existing allies.

“We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, ‘AIPAC doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the Israeli government doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the gulf countries don’t like it,’” Rhodes said. “It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation.”

“The way in which most Americans have heard the story of the Iran deal presented that the Obama administration began seriously engaging with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country — was largely manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal,” Samuels wrote.

“Even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false,” he continued.

According to the NY Times interview, the final proposal for an interim agreement that became the basis for JCPOA was completed in March 2013, three months before the “moderate” Rouhani took office as president.

Obama told the altered version to the world, including when saying, in a July 14, 2015 speech, “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.”

“The idea that there was a new reality in Iran was politically useful to the Obama administration,” Samuels writes. “By obtaining broad public currency for the thought that there was a significant split in the regime, and that the administration was reaching out to moderate-minded Iranians who wanted peaceful relations with their neighbors and with America, Obama was able to evade what might have otherwise been a divisive but clarifying debate over the actual policy choices that his administration was making.”

Samuels also interviewed Panetta, former head of the CIA and former secretary of defense for the Obama administration for his take on the Iran deal.

Panetta admitted that at no point during the contacts with Iran did the CIA assess the Tehran regime as being divided into hard-line and moderate factions.

“There was not much question that the Quds Force [a special forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards ] and the supreme leader ran that country with a strong arm, and there was not much question that this kind of opposing view could somehow gain any traction.”

In his role as secretary of defense, Panetta was tasked with ensuring that Netanyahu and his then defense minister Ehud Barak didn’t launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. A major point was whether or not Israel could rely on the US resorting to force if necessary to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Whereas once it could, now Panetta said he was not so sure.

Netanyahu and Barak “were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’ ” Panetta said. “And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.”

“Would I make that same assessment now?” Panetta continued. “Probably not.”

In Panetta’s opinion, Obama doubted the usefulness of large-scale military force, seeing such action as more likely to produce negative effects.

“I think the whole legacy that he was working on was, ‘I’m the guy who’s going to bring these wars to an end, and the last goddamn thing I need is to start another war,’” he said. “If you ratchet up sanctions, it could cause a war. If you start opposing their interest in Syria, well, that could start a war, too.”

Rhodes admitted the administration still has doubts over the reformative nature of Rouhani and others, such as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was a key negotiator in the hammering out the final nuclear deal.

“Look, with Iran, in a weird way, these are state-to-state issues,” Rhodes said. “They’re agreements between governments. Yes, I would prefer that it turns out that Rouhani and Zarif are real reformers who are going to be steering this country into the direction that I believe it can go in, because their public is educated and, in some respects, pro-American. But we are not betting on that.”

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    Ben Rhodes, one of President Barack Obama’s top advisers, has admitted that the dealings behind the agreement struck between Iran and world powers last summer were not exactly as presented to the public, Haaretz reported Sunday.

    While the American public was led to believe that negotiations between the West and the Islamic Republic took off after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, considered to be a “moderate”, in reality negotiations with hard-liners began much earlier, the report quoted Rhodes as having said in a conversation with The New York Times.

    Shortly after Rouhani was elected in 2013, he and Obama exchanged letters, and Obama later publicly reached out to Iran in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

    In November of that year, it was revealed that a preliminary deal between Iran and the West was made possible due to secret talks that the United States and Iran held for more than half a year and were authorized by Obama himself.

    Those discussions were kept hidden even from America’s closest friends, including its five negotiating partners and from Israel.

    The reason for the skewed presentation of the talks’ timeline, said Rhodes on Sunday, was to enable the administration to sell the deal to a wider audience.

    After the deal was struck last July, Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, explained to the Times how Washington’s foreign policy objectives focused on Iran.

    “It’s the center of the arc,” he said, adding, “We don’t have to kind of be in cycles of conflict if we can find other ways to resolve these issues. We can do things that challenge the conventional thinking that, you know, ‘AIPAC doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the Israeli government doesn’t like this,’ or ‘the gulf countries don’t like it.’ It’s the possibility of improved relations with adversaries. It’s nonproliferation. So all these threads that the president’s been spinning – and I mean that not in the press sense – for almost a decade, they kind of all converged around Iran.”

    Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who was also interviewed in the same article, noted that his job at the time of negotiations was to keep Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.

    Speaking of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta noted that “They were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’ ”

    “And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.”

    Asked whether he would make that assessment now, Panetta answered, “Probably not.”

    Regarding the support for the deal, Rhodes admitted in the interview that “We created an echo chamber.”

    “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say,” he said, adding, “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.”

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