Sen. Ted Cruz flubbed one Thursday in his impromptu debate on the Iran deal.
While many believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon, Cruz declared Iran's leaders have "explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons" — something that simply hasn't happened. "There is no doubt about it," the Texas Republican added for emphasis. Cruz's declaration came in an impromptu, but civil, debate with CodePink Co-Founder Medea Benjamin outside the White House.
"But let’s have some dialogue,” Cruz told her. “So one of the things you said is, 'if Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons.' Well, the nice thing is I believe ... truth matters. You know one entity, one person with whom there is no ambiguity in terms of whether Iran wants a nuclear weapon is the Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei. Is President [Hassan] Rouhani. Both of whom explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it."
Benjamin retorted, "That is absolutely false,” prompting jeers from a crowd of Iran-deal opponents and a protest from Cruz that he not be interrupted.
("Do you know Farsi?" one derisively shouted.)
But Benjamin appears to be right.
It's one thing to say Iranian leaders are claiming not to be developing nuclear weapons and are lying, or will cheat. Many have made that argument. But it's quite another to say they have declared they will when they haven't — and that's what Cruz did.
This is what Reuters reported Khamenei actually said about the deal just days ago: "The Americans say they stopped Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Khamenei said. "They know it's not true. We had a fatwa, declaring nuclear weapons to be religiously forbidden under Islamic law. It had nothing to do with the nuclear talks.”
What Khamenei is saying is that developing nuclear weapons would violate his religion. Ergo, he made the decision, not the Americans, not to develop them.
That's not what Cruz said he said.
Cruz Press Secretary Phil Novack declined to walk back Cruz's statement in an email exchange with CQ Roll Call, but nor could he back up the statement.
"The Iranians have consistently and assiduously lied and cheated over their nuclear program for more than two decades while their actions have clearly demonstrated their commitment to become a nuclear power," Novack said.
"The fatwa may or may not exist — and is yet another lie and fabrication," he said, linking to a Washington Post fact check. "From the Post: Even if one believes the fatwa exists — and will not later be reversed — it clearly appears to have evolved over time. U.S. officials should be careful about saying the fatwa prohibits the development of nuclear weapons, as that is not especially clear anymore.
"Note that the Supreme Leader is not denying pursuing a nuclear weapon in the below quote. All he is saying is that the deal did not stop them from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And in that they are not wrong."
The problem with Novack's statement is that Cruz said Khamenei and Rouhani have explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons, but without backing it up. Indeed, Iran declares in the deal itself that it will not develop a nuclear weapon.
(Novak expanded on his statement on Friday afternoon. )
(Also read: Cruz accuses Mitch McConnell of lying.)
Cruz isn't the only presidential candidate who brought up Khamenei's comments Thursday.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he was troubled by Khamenei's statements in an exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
"But I guess the point is is that everybody that's for the agreement, yourself included, are saying this will prevent them from having a nuclear weapon, and the ayatollah's saying exactly the opposite," Paul said.
Kerry disputed Paul's characterization.
"Do you know why he's saying that? Because he doesn't believe the Americans stopped them; he believes he stopped them because he issued a fatwa, and he has declared the policy of their country is not to do it. So he is, as a matter of sovereignty and pride, making a true statement. He doesn't believe the Americans stopped them. He said they didn't want to get one in the first place."
Nicole Puglise and Matthew Fleming contributed to this report. Related: Ted Cruz Still Hasn't Corrected Code Pink Debate Flub Ted Cruz Debates Protesters at Anti-Iran Deal Event Ted Cruz on Iran: There Will Be Blood Ted Cruz Accuses Mitch McConnell of Lying See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.