U.S. energy secretary: Nuclear deal spurs concerns of more Iran support for terrorism

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is concerned that Iran will increase backing for terrorism and other disruptive activities in the wake of the nuclear deal, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said in an address to American Jews.

“We are concerned about some possible escalation in their support for terrorism, meddling in the region in terms of stability,” Moniz said Thursday in the webcast organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “Obviously Hezbollah terrorism is an example.”

Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militia backed by Iran, launched a war against Israel in 2006 and is believed to be behind a slew of terrorist attacks on Jewish targets worldwide. Moniz also cited the prospect of increased Iranian disruption in Syria and Yemen.

Obama administration officials have acknowledged under congressional questioning that part of the at least $56 billion that will be freed up in the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached last month between Iran and six major powers could be directed toward Iranian disruptive activity.

But the concern expressed by Moniz, a top negotiator at the talks, was unusual in that, unprompted, he said directly that the administration anticipates an increase in terrorist activity. He also said the regime’s rhetoric on Jews and Israel was a concern.

“We find extremely bothersome to put it mildly the strong anti-Israel, anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Iran,” he said.

Moniz said, however, that the removal of the prospect of a nuclear weapon would facilitate confronting Iran on its other activities, saying enhanced security cooperation with U.S. allies would now occur “with the comfort that Iran does not have and will not have a nuclear weapon.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet authorized talks with the United States to enhance security, not wanting to be seen even tacitly as approving of the deal.

Moniz’s appearance follows an Aug. 4 webcast hosted by the same groups featuring Netanyahu, who staunchly opposes the deal.

During the webcast, Moniz said that the deal increases Iran’s breakout time to gathering the necessary nuclear material for a weapon from two months to a year.

Opponents and supporters of the deal are waging full-throated campaigns to influence the public and lawmakers ahead of a vote in Congress in mid- to late September on whether to reject the deal.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is campaigning against the deal, on Thursday issued a memo noting opposition to the deal from six former top military and security officials. Backers of the deal had earlier this week released a letter from 36 former top military officials in support of the deal.

Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, argued in an Op-Ed to appear Friday in The New York Times that walking away from the deal in hopes of increasing leverage against Iran was a “dangerous fantasy.”

“In the eyes of the world, the nuclear agreement — endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and more than 90 other countries — addresses the threat of Iran’s nuclear program by constraining it for the long term and ensuring that it will be exclusively peaceful,” Lew wrote. “If Congress now rejects this deal, the elements that were fundamental in establishing that international consensus will be gone.”

Separately on Thursday, current and former Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee who support the deal wrote their colleagues a letter saying they were confident it sufficiently constrained Iran.

“During our entire service on the Intelligence Committee, we have made it a top priority to monitor Iran’s nuclear program, its missile development, and its nefarious activities in the region and beyond,” said the letter initiated by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee and one of Congress’ Jewish members.

“We have done so because we recognize the imperative – for the United States and our allies, including Israel – that Iran never obtain a nuclear weapon,” the letter said. “You can be assured that these efforts will not only continue under the agreement but intensify.”

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