Fact check: Trump’s statements on Iran
Washington — President Donald Trump offered a questionable reading of Iran’s past economic condition Friday when he blamed the Obama administration for lifting sanctions just as Iran’s government was facing “total collapse.”
A look at some of his points in remarks Friday that denounced Iran’s behavior but stopped short of fulfilling his campaign promise to get the U.S. out of the multinational deal that eased sanctions on Iran in return for a suspension of its nuclear program:
TRUMP: “The previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime.”
THE FACTS: An imminent collapse of Iran’s economy was highly unlikely, according to international economists and U.S. officials.
International penalties on Iran in response to its nuclear program did drive its economy into crisis earlier this decade. But even before the nuclear deal, Iran had cut budget expenditures and fixed its balance of payments. It was still exporting oil and importing products from countries such as Japan and China.
The multinational deal froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to a variety of oil, trade and financial sanctions on Tehran. Iran also regained access to frozen assets held abroad. The deal was conceivably an economic lifeline for the state, but international economists as well as U.S. officials did not foresee an imminent economic collapse at the time.
Among those experts, Patrick Clawson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Iran’s leaders worried about the potential for social unrest at the time, but that the economy was sustainable.
TRUMP: “The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement. For example, on two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water.”
THE FACTS: Iran is meeting all of its obligations under the deal, according to International Atomic Energy Agency investigators, who noted some minor violations that were quickly corrected.
Trump is right that Iran exceeded the limit on heavy water in its possession on two occasions. Both times, international inspectors were able to see that Iran made arrangements to ship the excess out of the country so that it could come back into compliance.
Deal supporters argue this shows the agreement works. Deal opponents say that because Iran sells the surplus on the open market, Iran is therefore being rewarded for violating the deal.
Trump and other critics of the agreement point in particular to Iran’s continuing missile tests, which may or may not defy the U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined the deal. But those tests do not violate the deal itself.
TRUMP on the deal: “It also gave the regime an immediate financial boost and over $100 billion its government could use to fund terrorism. The regime also received a massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the United States, a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown into Iran.”
THE FACTS: The “financial boost” was from money that was Iran’s to begin with. It was not a payout from the U.S. or others but an unfreezing of Iranian assets held abroad.
The $1.7 billion from the U.S. is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.
The rupture left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to American people and businesses.
The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with $1.3 billion in interest.
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