A Nuclear Scientist From M.I.T. Takes the Bully Pulpit on Iran

Peter Baker April 6, 2015NYT FD

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Good Monday morning from Washington where President Obama and Michelle Obama will host the annual Easter egg roll, and the nation celebrates baseball’s opening day. An effort to repeal a law signed by former Gov. Rick Perry brings the immigration debate back to Texas, and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida seems to have taken his Hispanic ties a step too far on one occasion. As Sunday talk shows discussed the tentative nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House dispatched an unconventional spokesman to defend it: an M.I.T.-trained nuclear physicist with nearly shoulder-length hair.

When the White House opens its briefing for reporters on Monday, there will be a new face alongside Josh Earnest, the press secretary. Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, fresh from the nuclear talks in Switzerland, will answer questions about the newly minted agreement with Iran.

Mr. Moniz does not exactly fit the classic profile of a White House spokesman. With his nearly shoulder-length, gray-and-white hair, Mr. Moniz, an M.I.T.-trained nuclear scientist, is prone to using phrases like “SWU,” (pronounced “swoo”) for separative work units.

But the White House is happy to make Mr. Moniz one of the public faces of the Iran agreement, figuring that his endorsement sends a message that scientists who know a thing or two about enrichment believe in the deal, while the criticism comes from politicians who, in this view, are disregarding the facts. It was Mr. Moniz, after all, who was dispatched to “Face the Nation” on CBS News on Sunday to make the case for the agreement.

“Secretary Moniz is one of the world’s leading nuclear experts, and he worked at the negotiating table to ensure that we can effectively shut down every pathway Iran has to a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Earnest said on Sunday.

Mr. Moniz is helping to fill the public relations gap while Secretary of State John Kerry, who led months of negotiations culminating in all-night, coffee-fueled sessions, slipped away for a long-planned vacation that he delayed for several days to finish the agreement.

But don’t expect Mr. Kerry to be absent for long. He gave six television interviews the night the deal was announced, and officials said he would be visible in trying to promote it when he returns. Among other things, Mr. Kerry may conduct a rare briefing of both the House and the Senate in a joint meeting.