The White House is blaming a mistake that had brief but worldwide impact on a “clerical error” – after press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement Monday evening stating that Iran “has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.”
By using the word "has," the statement implied that Iran continued to work on its secret nuclear weapons program – which would have constituted a violation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear agreement.
The error reverberated across the globe, catching the attention of two prominent Middle Eastern publications, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, causing confusion over whether the United States currently assesses Iran’s nuclear weapons program to be active.
Less than two hours after releasing the statement, the White House updated the critical word on its website to the past tense, clarifying that the U.S. view is that Iran “had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.”
As the administration mulls leaving the JCPOA, the backlash online surrounding the original statement’s error prompted the National Security Council to attempt to explain the mistake.
“The original White House statement included a clerical error, which we quickly detected and fixed,” a national security official explained. “Our statement referred to the information from the Israeli presentation, which describes an Iranian effort from 1999-2003 to develop nuclear weapons, called ‘Project Amad.’
“To be clear, the United States has long known that Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program,” the official continued. “The information presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu adds new and compelling details about these efforts. Nothing in the statement is in any way contradicts recent comments by U.S. officials, such as Secretary Pompeo’s confirmation testimony.”
In an elaborate presentation in Tel Aviv on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel had obtained thousands of Iranian documents detailing Tehran’s past nuclear weapons development program and showing what he said was a failure by Iran to declare those activities before signing on to an international nuclear agreement.
On Tuesday, Sanders downplayed the significance of the mistake, calling it “a simple typo” while attacking the Obama administration for negotiating the pact in 2015.
“We think the biggest mistake that was made was under the Obama administration by ever entering the deal in the first place,” she said. “The typo that you referenced was noticed, immediately corrected. And we are focused on moving forward on the safety and security of our country.”