FACT CHECK: GOP candidates throw out false facts on Iran

Paul undermines nuclear threat, Santorum stretches legitimacy of Iranian election

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Republican presidential candidate Texas Rep. Ron Paul walks during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Evan Vucci/AP

Iran is very much in the news, with President Obama signing legislation that imposes new sanctions against Iran, which has warned it may retaliate by closing a key oil route. But there was more heat than light on the critical issue of Iran from two GOP presidential candidates this weekend:

  • On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rep. Ron Paul falsely claimed the International Atomic Energy Agency “did not find any evidence” that Iran is “on the verge of a [nuclear] weapon.” However, the IAEA reported on Nov. 8 that Iran has carried out activities “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
  • On “Meet the Press,” Rick Santorum went too far in claiming Obama “basically” said the 2009 reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was “a legitimate one.” Actually, Obama said he could not “state definitively one way or another” whether the election was legitimate, because the U.S. did not have election monitors in Iran.

Several Republican candidates appeared on the Sunday talk shows to talk politics and policy, with the Iowa caucuses two days away. A key topic was Iran.

Paul, Jan. 1: "At least Iran is in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that’s a step and they do have inspections. The AEIE did not find any evidence that they are on the verge of a weapon."

We assume Paul meant to refer to the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA. We could find no listing of any organization under the acronym “AEIE” dealing with nuclear issues.

And the fact is, the IAEA found as recently as Nov. 8 that Iran has carried out activities “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” That led the BBC to report: “Correspondents say this is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s toughest report on Iran to date.”

Indeed, the IAEA report is full of foreboding language. For example, on page 7:

IAEA, Nov. 8: Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information.

And on page 8, the report states that Iran has carried out several activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device, including “acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network” and work on “development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.”

On the other hand, Paul was correct when he said that even the head of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, had said that a nuclear armed Iran would not be “an existential threat” to Israel. And he was also correct when he said that Meir Dagan, a former Mossad chief, had said that bombing Iranian nuclear sites “right now would be stupid.”

According to a report from the English-language Israeli news agency Haaretz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo “said that Israel was using various means to foil Iran’s nuclear program and would continue to do so, but if Iran actually obtained nuclear weapons, it would not mean the destruction of the State of Israel.” The news report quoted three unnamed Israeli ambassadors who had been among those briefed in secret by the Mossad chief.

And former Mossad chief Dagan said in November in a television interview that if Israel attacks Iran, it would lead to a regional war with many deaths, paralyzing life in the Jewish state.

While Paul was downplaying Iran as a threat, Santorum criticized Obama as too weak in his dealings with the country.

Santorum, Jan. 1: "Number one, he didn’t support the pro-democracy movement in Iran in 2009 during the Green Revolution. Almost immediately after the election, I mean, excuse me, like with hours after the, the polls closed, Ahmadinejad announced that he won with 62 percent of the vote. Within a few days, President Obama basically said that that was — election was a legitimate one."

Iran’s presidential election was June 12, 2009, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared victory — triggering protests in Tehran. On June 15, Obama said at a press conference: “We weren’t on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can’t state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election. But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed. And I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views.”

Obama issued a statement five days later again condemning Iran’s post-election “violent and unjust actions against its own people” and asserting that the U.S. “stands with all who … exercise” the “universal rights to assembly and free speech.” It was one of many such statements.

The Washington Times on June 27 wrote that Obama was being cautious in what he said about the election results because he didn’t want to be accused of interfering and providing Ahmadinejad with a propaganda “tool.”

Washington Times, June 27: While other leaders have been more out front in their criticism, Mr. Obama has taken pains not to appear to meddle in the debate on the actual election results, arguing he doesn’t want his words to become propaganda for the Iranian regime. “Only I’m the president of the United States, and I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

Santorum went on to say Obama “turned his back” on the Iranian protesters, but supported the “radicals” in Egypt who deposed “an ally of ours in Mubarak.” The fact is Obama treated both cases similarly: condemning the governments’ use of violence against their own citizens and supporting the protesters right to protest.

– Brooks Jackson and Eugene Kiely