President Donald Trump repeated a viral claim from conservative media that President Barack Obama granted U.S. citizenship to 2,500 Iranians, including family members of government officials, as part of the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015.
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The story was largely lifted from Fox News and repeated by Trump and other websites.
"Just out that the Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians - including to government officials. How big (and bad) is that?" tweeted Trump, who announced in May that the United States was pulling out of the agreement to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.
We found that the claim lacks evidence. Our fact-checking friends at Factnameh, a Canada-based website that fact-checks claims about Iran, found that the statement by the Iranian official has no evidence to back it up.
Fox News attributed its report to Hojjat al-Islam Mojtaba Zolnour, chairman of Iran’s parliamentary nuclear committee and a member of its national security and foreign affairs committee.
Zolnour made the allegations during an interview with the country’s Etemad newspaper, cited by the country’s Fars News agency, a "semi-official" organ of the Iranian government.
Zolnour claimed that the citizenships were granted as a favor to senior Iranian officials linked to President Hassan Rouhani, Fox said.
"When Obama, during the negotiations about the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran deal), decided to do a favor to these men, he granted citizenship to 2,500 Iranians and some officials started a competition over whose children could be part of these 2,500 Iranians," he claimed.
Fox News analyst and former Obama State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told Fox News, "This sounds like totally made up B.S."
Richard Nephew, who works for Columbia University and was the State Department’s lead sanctions expert from August 2013 to December 2014, told PolitiFact that the claim "is entirely nonsense."
"It would have made no sense for us to have done this and less sense for the officials to have agreed/requested citizenship," he said. "While I was on the team, this wasn't even discussed, considered or thought about. I would bet any sum you'd care to wager that this didn't come up after I left the talks. And, it is worth noting that after years of congressional inquiry into this, we never heard of it. I find it hard to believe that's because this one opposition politician in Iran was the only person who knew about it."
Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, who served on State’s Policy Planning Staff from 2005-07, also expressed disbelief. (She held a part-time outside advisor role during the early part of Obama’s administration.)
Maloney said the issue of U.S. citizenship or green cards has long been a contentious one within the Iranian establishment. There are a few Iranians within the ruling establishment who have or had U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, typically dating from the pre-revolutionary period.
There are also Iranian officials whose children have attended U.S. universities and stayed in the United States, or married dual nationals and obtained residency or citizenship.
"Given the longstanding estrangement between the U.S. and Iran, the allegation alone is used as a smear, to impugn the patriotism and question the motives of rival officials by essentially accusing them of hypocrisy and ideological opportunism," she said.
Zolnour is a hard-line cleric, she said.
"So it’s not surprising that a politician who is critical of the nuclear deal would use this line of attack, especially in the aftermath of President Trump’s dismantling of the deal, which has generated an intense backlash toward the proponents of the agreement," Maloney said. "And yes, Iranians of all political stripes are prone to indulging fairly creative conspiracy theories, especially hardliners and especially conspiracy theories about the U.S."
Ali Vaez, the anti-war Crisis Group's Iran Project Director, told PoltiiFact that Zolnour is a firebrand who is well known for his false claims.
Vaez said that Zolnour is using this claim to undermine President Hassan Rouhani and his allies as the parliament is trying to pass a bill to ban dual-nationals from serving in the Iranian government.
We emailed the Diamond and Silk website and did not get a reply. The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment to Fox News, and we didn’t get a reply to our email. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked about Trump’s tweet at the July 3 press briefing and referred reporters to homeland security.
A headline on a Diamond and Silk website said "Obama secretly gave citizenship to 2,500 Iranians as part of nuke deal."
The article stemmed from a Fox News report which was based on comments by Hojjat al-Islam Mojtaba Zolnour, an Iranian official, who made the allegation during an interview with the country’s Etemad newspaper, cited by the country’s semi-official Fars News agency. The report doesn’t appear to include any actual evidence.
Fox News’ report contained no confirmation by U.S. government officials working in the Trump administration. Former Obama administration officials denied the report and experts expressed skepticism.
We rate claims based on available evidence, and so far have found none to support the claim.
We rate this statement False.