Not even 24 hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress address is already undermining the U.S. government on the international stage. The State Department is harshly criticizing Netanyahu's speech, claiming the prime minister took some words and stats from Secretary of State John Kerry and twisted them to make them fit into a new, more dramatic narrative. It's the latest faux-pas for Netanyahu, who received a warm response from (most) members of Congress Tuesday morning but a chilly reception from those in the White House.
During his rousing yet rhetorically overwrought speech — Netanyahu did compare Iran to ISIS, after all — the Israeli leader made a strange claim that made fact checkers do a double take. Netanyahu stated that Iran could end up having 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium when this nuclear weapons deal is complete. "My longtime friend, John Kerry, secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity [190,000] when the deal expires," the prime minister said.
That number, understandably, is astounding, especially considering that Iran currently has around 19,000 centrifuges, though only about half of them are operational.
Perhaps that number seems so staggering because it's not real. Although Netanyahu said Kerry testified that "Iran could legitimately possess" nearly 200,000 centrifuges when the nuclear weapon deal expires, it's, well, not exactly what Kerry said. And the State Department is miffed.
"[It's] absolutely not true," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said in a news conference on Tuesday. "The Secretary did not say that."
Here's what Kerry did say when he testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Feb. 25, via FactCheck.org:
[T]he purpose of the negotiations we’re in now with Iran is to ensure that their nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes. That’s the key here. They can have a civilian peaceful program. So when you get into the number of centrifuges and this and that, if — if you have a civilian power plant that’s producing power legitimately and not a threat to proliferation, you could have as many as 190,000 or more centrifuges. And there are millions of centrifuges involved, ultimately, power plants that are producing power. So the key here is, is this a peaceful program, and are the measures in place capable of making sure you know it’s peaceful? That’s the standard we’re trying to apply.
Kerry did not say the Iran will have, or that there was even a possibility of having, 190,000 centrifuges when the deal expires. It was, as the State Department pointed out, a hypothetical that did not apply to Iran.
Harf told FactCheck.org in an emailed statement late on Tuesday:
Secretary Kerry was not speaking to what Iran could or would have under or after a deal — he wasn’t talking specifically about Iran at all. He was arguing that ensuring the nuclear program is peaceful through measures like transparency and monitoring can be as important [as] the number of centrifuges, which can get quite high even in countries that peacefully enrich uranium only to produce electrical power.
Harf told reporters on Tuesday she couldn't "ascribe [a] motive to" Netanyahu's twisting of Kerry's words, but she did have some other not-too-kind words for the Israeli prime minister. "We didn’t hear any new ideas today, but more importantly, didn’t hear one single concrete alternative in today’s speech from the Prime Minister," Harf said.
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