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Iran: Netanyahu's 'lies' aimed at influencing Trump

Tehran's dismissal comes as US calls Netanyahu speech 'compelling' even as EU official says no proof Iran violated deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Iran's top officials have bristled at the Israeli prime minister's allegations that Tehran secretly pursued a nuclear weapons programme, dismissing them as "lies" aimed at influencing US President Donald Trump ahead of a crucial deadline for the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on Tuesday that Benjamin Netanyahu's speech was a "repetition" of past accusations, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already disproven.

"Netanyahu is trying to affect Trump's upcoming decision about the Iranian 2015 international nuclear deal, or JCPOA, but, Tehran is prepared for any scenario by Trump," Araghchi was quoted by Iran's Mehr news agency as saying.

Bahram Ghasemi, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, also denounced Netanyahu's "propaganda" show on Tuesday, saying he had "nothing to offer but a pack of lies", according to Mehr news.  

In a statement on Wednesday, the IAEA said that the agency found "no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009".

IAEA noted, however, that "before the end of 2003, an organisational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

It said the the activities "did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilties".  

Trump faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to keep the US commitment to the nuclear deal - renew the agreement's prescribed sanctions relief for Iran - or withdraw from it.

Following Netanyahu's speech, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described the Israeli prime minister as the "boy who cries wolf", adding that his presentation had been "coordinated" to effect Trump's May 12 decision.

Netanyahu's speech came against a backdrop of sustained efforts by the Trump administration and its allies at home and in the Middle East to cancel, or at least renegotiate, the 2015 nuclear pact signed between Iran and the US, France, Russia, Germany, China, the UK and the European Union.

The Israeli leader has been a leading critic of the agreement, saying it fails to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capability.

Following Netanyahu's speech, the White House issued a statement calling it "compelling", even as the European Union (EU) pushed back, saying Iran has not violated the terms of the 2015 deal.

"These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known: Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons programme that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people," the statement said. 

In a press conference with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, Trump also said that "what's happening today, and what's happening in the last little while, and what we've learned has really shown that I've been 100 percent right".     

'Netanyahu's performance'

Newly-installed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said the documents obtained by Israel "show beyond any doubt that the Iranian regime was not telling the truth".

But the EU's top foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini said Netanyahu's presentation "has not put into question Iran's compliance" with the nuclear deal it signed with world powers.

"I have not seen from Prime Minister Netanyahu arguments for the moment on non-compliance, meaning violation by Iran of its nuclear commitments under the [nuclear] deal," she said.

Mogherini also said that the IAEA has also published at least 10 reports "certifying that Iran has fully complied with its commitments".  

She said that if any country has information of non-compliance of the deal, "it can and should address and channel this information to the proper, legitimate, recognised mechanisms" in place to address any concerns. 

In an interview, Jonathan Cristol, of the World Policy Institute, said the Israeli prime minister failed to prove that Iran breached the 2015 agreement. 

"Netanyahu has not shown any evidence that Iran has violated its agreement, or anything that comes after July 2015 at all," he said.

"So I am a little bit confused as to what the whole performance was about, beyond really just trying to confuse President Trump, and provide ammunition for him to be able to withdraw from the deal on May 12," Cristol added.

'Nothing new to revelation'

Iran experts said the documents Netanyahu presented pre-dated the nuclear agreement in 2015, when Iran disavowed pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said what Netanyahu revealed was already "public knowledge", adding it "vindicates" the need for the Iran deal.

"We need the deal to verify [Netanyahu's] claims, without it Iran can do whatever it wants," he wrote on social media.   

Under the deal signed in Vienna, Iran scaled back its uranium enrichment programme, and promised not to pursue nuclear weapons. In exchange, international sanctions were lifted, allowing it to sell its oil and gas worldwide. However, secondary US sanctions remain.

Since Trump came to office, he has taken several steps to block the deal. In October, he refused to certify that Iran is living up to the accord. He also targeted several Iranian businesses and individuals with new sanctions.

On January 12, Trump announced he is waiving the US sanctions for the "last time". He said, if his demands to "fix the deal" are not met within 120 days, the US will withdraw from the deal on or before May 12.

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