Nation

Top scientists urge Trump to abide by Iran nuclear deal

NEW YORK — Dozens of the nation’s top scientists wrote to President-elect Donald Trump on Monday to urge him not to dismantle the Iran deal, calling it a strong bulwark against any Iranian bid to make nuclear arms.

“We urge you to preserve this critical US strategic asset,” the letter read. The 37 signatories included Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms, former White House science advisers and the chief executive of the world’s largest general society of scientists.

During the campaign, Trump called the Iran accord “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

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In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, he declared that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal,” and argued that Tehran had outmaneuvered Washington in winning concessions and could still develop nuclear arms when the pact’s restrictions expire in 15 years.

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The letter was organized by Richard L. Garwin, a physicist who helped design the world’s first hydrogen bomb and has long advised Washington on nuclear weapons and arms control. He is among the last living physicists who helped usher in the nuclear age.

The letter to Trump says its objective is to “provide our assessment” of the Iran deal since it was put in effect nearly a year ago.

On Jan. 16, 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the technical body in Vienna that oversees the accord with teams of inspectors it has sent to Iran, gave its approval, saying Tehran had curbed its nuclear program enough to begin receiving relief from long-standing sanctions.

The letter writers zeroed in on the dismantling of Iran’s ability to purify uranium, a main fuel of nuclear arms that is considered the easiest to use.

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They said Tehran, as agreed, had shut down roughly two-thirds of its machines for enriching uranium, had exported more than 95 percent of the material it had enriched to 4 percent and had given up its production of uranium enriched to near 20 percent, which is much closer to bomb grade.

As a result, they said, the time it would take Tehran to enrich uranium for a single nuclear weapon “has increased to many months, from just a few weeks” during the accord’s negotiation. The “many months” wording is more conservative than that of the Obama administration, which hailed the deal as keeping Iran a year away from having enough nuclear fuel to make a bomb.

While the deal was opposed by all Republicans in the House and Senate, it is not clear Trump would move quickly to renege on it. Any effort by the United States to walk away from its terms, or to renegotiate it, would open the way for Iran to insist on changes as well.

On Monday, Trump showed little sign of forgiving his critics as he prepares to take office Jan. 20. He tweeted that ‘‘various media outlets and pundits say that I thought I was going to lose the election. Wrong.’’

He continued: ‘‘I thought and felt I would win big.’’

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Trump’s continued focus on his victory comes as he works to shape his new administration.

Sonny Perdue III, the former governor of Georgia, has emerged as Trump’s leading candidate to be secretary of agriculture, Bloomberg News reported Monday, citing a person familiar with the matter.

While Perdue is the front-runner, the decision isn’t final, the person said.

Perdue, 70, would succeed secretary Tom Vilsack. After a Nov. 30 meeting with Trump, Perdue told reporters they talked about domestic and international trade in agricultural commodities.

Trump won the election with strong support from voters in rural areas, where farm incomes have been falling and debt levels have climbed.

Trump and his aides have interviewed several others candidates, including former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Texas Representative Henry Bonilla, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, Idaho Governor Butch Otter, and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat.

Also Monday, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer played down cryptic comments made by Trump last week that he knows ‘‘things that other people don’t know’’ when it comes to allegations of Russian hacking.

On Fox News, Spicer said Trump meant that he is getting national security briefings ‘‘on a daily basis’’ and ‘‘there doesn’t seem to be conclusive evidence’’ Russians were behind the hacking of Democratic e-mails during the election.