The adviser to President Obama who’s under fire for his role in selling the Iranian nuclear deal to the American public defended the agreement Monday, while the White House denied that it erased a reference to the deal from a public transcript.
Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told the Arms Control Association in Washington that the results of the Iran deal “speak for themselves.”
“For critics, it’s easier to have a debate about messaging than the deal itself,” Mr. Rhodes said. “Iran has taken significant steps to roll back its program and cut off its pathways to a nuclear weapon. These are facts — and they match how we described the deal last summer.”
Republican lawmakers and others have criticized Mr. Rhodes for boasting in an interview that he pushed a “narrative” about the Iran deal, misleading the public into believing the agreement was negotiated mainly after moderates gained power in Tehran in 2013. The framework of the agreement was negotiated with Islamic hardliners before moderates took over.
Mr. Rhodes reiterated the administration’s argument that the deal has lengthened the amount of time that Iran would need to develop enough nuclear material for a bomb from two or three months to “about a year.”
But he also suggested that the amount of time and energy that the administration spent on the Iran deal came at a cost of neglecting the nuclear threat from North Korea.
“The truth is, Iran took up an enormous amount of time and energy — building the sanctions regime; negotiating a deal; ensuring that it could be implemented,” Mr. Rhodes said. “I know that there are other areas where more work needs to be done.
We have not stopped the advance of North Korea’s nuclear program. The continued testing of both nuclear weapons and missile systems by the North Koreans is the most serious proliferation challenge in the world today.”
He said Pyongyang’s nuclear belligerence “will be a top priority — through our administration, and for the next.”
Meanwhile, the White House rejected suggestions Monday that it had “scratched” an answer to a reporter’s question about the Iran deal last week from an official transcript of the press briefing. The State Department has admitted that it intentionally edited and deleted video of an archived press briefing from December 2013 to conceal statements its spokeswoman made about the nuclear talks with Iran.
But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there is a distinction between the State Department’s actions and a White House transcript last week that omitted Mr. Earnest’s two-word answer to a reporter’s question about the Iran deal. The reporter, Kevin Corke of Fox News, asked if Mr. Earnest could “state categorically that no senior official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal?”
Mr. Earnest’s reply, “No, Kevin,” was omitted from the initial transcript, and corrected after ABC News pointed out the omission.
Mr. Earnest said Monday that the words were omitted due to “a little cross-talk” in the press room at the time. And he bristled at a reporter’s suggestion that the White House had “scratched” his answer from the original transcript.
“I don’t think it’s fair for you to say they were scratched,” Mr. Earnest said. “It’s important to note that distinction there between what was apparently an effort at the State Department to make a conscious, a specific decision to remove a portion of the video. The situation you’re citing is really a specific issue with a [White House] transcript that was two words. I think you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that there’s a link between the two.”