The State Department on Wednesday faced a barrage of questions about the status of Iran negotiations after the Iranians announced that they would expand their nuclear program and take action against an American journalist imprisoned in the country. Iranian media conveyed reports that day President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran had already begun construction on two nuclear plants.
Asked about criticism from lawmakers that ongoing negotiations are allowing Iran to build up its nuclear program, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf doubled down on longstanding administration claims that the Iranian nuclear program was in fact frozen, and credited negotiations between Iran and the West for getting to that point. Reporters immediately asked Harf about Rouhani’s Tuesday announcement declaring that the Iranians had begun building two new nuclear reactors, to which Harf responded, “I didn’t see those comments.”
Reporters took to Twitter to openly mock the Iranian announcement – Bloomberg View reporter Eli Lake sarcastically tweeted that “our diplomats have been assured these are moderate, not hardliner, centrifuges,” a gesture toward claims made last year by some in the foreign policy community that Rouhani, who was then a presidential candidate, was a “moderate” alternative to his rival candidates.
Also on Wednesday The Washington Post reported that its reporter Jason Rezaian had been indicted and will likely stand trial, but Iran has not disclosed the charges against the Post’s Tehran correspondent. Meanwhile, reports published Wednesday indicated that both the House and the Senate would in the coming weeks move to advance legislation boosting pressure on Iran.