Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Does Iran Really Need Nuclear Power?


As multilateral negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and international sanctions continue in Vienna, it is important to remember that, for Iran, this is not about nuclear weapons, but rather the domestic production and control over nuclear energy.*

Iran has officially forsworn any interest in nuclear weapons - constantly and consistently - since it restarted its nuclear program in the early 1980s. Iran's desire for the indigenous mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle and control over its own supply chain was never a secret. It's eventual purchase of nuclear technology on the black market and decision to enrich uranium domestically was a last resort, born of a deliberate American policy to deny Iran the very nuclear infrastructure acknowledged as an "inalienable right" and international cooperation guaranteed in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Article IV of the NPT clearly states that all signatories to the agreement "undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy" and that nuclear superpowers such as the United States, are obligated to help "non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty," such as Iran, to acquire and utilize nuclear energy through direct cooperation or multinational consortia, "with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world."

The American effort to deny Iran of nuclear technology, long couched as an effort to stop potential nuclear weapons programs, thus placed illegal restrictions on Iran's technological and scientific development. This has been public knowledge since at least 1984, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. Despite the fact that the U.S. State Department admitted to having "no evidence Iran has repudiated or violated its pledge under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to place its nuclear activities under international safeguards to prevent their use in the production of bombs," the Reagan administration (which was actively aiding Iranian exiles intent on overthrowing Khomeini's government and providing military and intelligence support for Saddam Hussein) imposed an embargo on nuclear-related trade with Iran. Citing its mistrust of Iranian intentions, the State Department declared in a press release that "the United States will not consent to the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Iran. In addition, we have asked other nuclear suppliers not to engage in nuclear co-operation with Iran, especially while the Iran-Iraq war continues."

Still, the release noted that Iran's nascent nuclear program posed no immediate danger. After all, it said, "light-water reactors are not particularly suitable for a weapons program" and "there is no evidence of construction [in Iran] of facilities needed to separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel."

Years later, Reagan's successor followed suit. In early 1991, The Los Angeles Times reported that the "[George H.W.] Bush Administration and its allies are quietly launching a new international effort aimed at making it more difficult for such countries as Iraq and Iran to buy the high-tech items needed to develop nuclear weapons," which purposefully affected trade in "so-called 'dual-use' goods--items that, while they have other legitimate uses, are also important components for a program to develop nuclear weapons."

That same year, however, Hans Blix, then-Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made it clear that there was "no cause for concern" regarding Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear technology.

The following year, in 1992, IAEA inspections in Iran found no evidence of illegal nuclear activity. After visiting numerous nuclear sites, chief inspector Jon Jennekens announced that "everything that we have seen is for the peaceful application of nuclear energy and ionizing radiation." He told the press, "We visited without any restriction everything we had asked to see. All nuclear activities in Iran are solely for peaceful purpose."

Nevertheless, in Senate testimony delivered early that year, then-CIA director Robert Gates (who later served as Defense Secretary under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama), claimed that Iran "has not abandoned the goal of one day leading the Islamic world and reversing the global dominance of Western culture and technology." Gates admitted, however, that "most of these technologies are so-called dual use technologies—that is, they have legitimate civilian applications. This makes it difficult to restrict trade in them because we would be limiting the ability of developing nations to modernize."

The American policy of denial has long been met with Iranian accusations of hypocrisy and monopoly. As Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told CNN's Christiane Amanpour only a month after his first inauguration:
We're against "nuclear apartheid," which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel, and then sell it to another country for 10 times its value. We're against that. We say clean energy is the right of all countries. But also it is the duty and the responsibility of all countries, including ours, to set up frameworks to stop the proliferation of [nuclear weapons].
Years later, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, condemned as "unacceptable" the "monopolization of technology and science and nuclear apartheid," which he said "is in stark contrast to the undeniable rights of countries based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the agency's Articles of Association."

This frustration is shared across political lines. At a May 2014 meeting of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, President Hassan Rouhani declared, "We are after our national interests, and we will not accept nuclear or scientific apartheid," adding, "In the direction of science, knowledge and progress, the Atomic Energy Organization had no choice but to stand on its own feet for its scientific goals and technological achievements."

Yet critics of diplomacy with Iran and those whose interests lie with promoting Netanyahu-inspired fear-mongering often ask why Iran - a country with reportedly the planet's fourth largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves (if not more) - should be so intent on developing a nuclear sector.

The answer to the question of why an oil-rich nation would want nuclear energy, however, is simple: in order to compete on an international stage, Iran must vastly diversify its energy policy. With a growing population, energy demands are rapidly increasing. Oil and gas, Iran's leading natural resources (and which are finite), must be available for export to foreign markets, not merely used for energy domestically, in order to fuel Iran's economy. Therefore, for domestic use, Iran has long sought different energy sources, from nuclear to solar to wind.

The Iranian government has long made this very argument. On November 18, 2005, a full-page message was published in the New York Times, outlining Iran's position with regard to its nuclear program. "Although it is true that Iran is rich in oil and gas, these resources are finite and, given the pace of Iran's economic development, they will be depleted within two to five decades," the message said. With a growing population, "Iran has no choice but to seek access to more diversified and secure sources of energy," it read, adding that "the youthfulness of the Iranian population, with around 70% under 30, doesn't allow complacency when it comes to energy policy. To satisfy such growing demands, Iran can't rely exclusively on fossil energy. Since Iranian national economy is still dependent on oil revenue, it can't allow the ever increasing domestic demand affect the oil revenues from the oil export."

After leaving his post as Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Javad Zarif (now Iran's foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator), published a paper entitled, "Tackling the Iran-U.S. Crisis: The Need for a Paradigm Shift," in the Spring/Summer issue of the Journal of International Affairs in 2007. In it, he wrote at length about the need for a diversified energy policy in Iran:
A review of objective facts would establish Iran's need for alternative sources of energy, including nuclear energy. According to a recently released study by the National Academy of Science, "Iran's energy demand growth has exceeded its supply growth," and therefore, "Iran's oil export will decline," or even "could go to zero within 12-19 years." The study acknowledges that Iran's need for nuclear power is "genuine, because Iran relies on...proceeds from oil exports for most revenues, and could become politically vulnerable if exports decline." Nuclear reactors, the report adds, "will substitute for the power now generated by petroleum, thus, freeing petroleum for export." Many other U.S. and western experts have reached the same conclusions. In fact, Iran's current plans to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity by 2020 may save Iran 190 million barrels of crude oil every year or nearly $14 billion annually.
From an environmental perspective, more Western utilities are looking to nuclear power "because of the prospect of controls on fossil-fuel generated power, while possible climate-change legislation wouldn't affect nuclear power, which doesn't generate the same pollutants."
"Therefore," Zarif continued, "Iran's nuclear program is neither ambitious nor economically unjustifiable. Diversification—including the development of nuclear energy—is the only sound and responsible energy strategy for Iran. Moreover, Iran's energy diversification strategy is not concentrated solely on nuclear energy, but encompasses various other alternative and renewable sources."

This was, and remains, true.

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Iran has the largest installed renewable-energy capacity in the Middle East." The Iranian government has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting clean energy projects. "The government sees renewables as a way to alleviate pollution, a common problem in congested cities such as Tehran. It also sees an opportunity for Iran to reduce its oil dependency," wrote the Journal.

Iran has an official Renewable Energy Organization (SUNA), is an exporter of wind energy, and already has dozens of hydroelectric power plants and a number of operational solar power plants around the country, including one near Shiraz and another near Yazd, which is reportedly the world's first combined cycle plant that uses both natural gas and solar energy.

In 2011, Iranian media reported that Iran's largest solar plant had opened near Mashhad which was said to "produce enough electricity to power Khorassan province's Regional Electric Company building" and was "expected to generate 72,000 kilowatt hours of electrical power each year." A small wind-solar hybrid power plant is also said to have been installed on the Persian Gulf island Kharg.

The same year, Iran's Energy Minister Majid Namjou said that, by 2015, Iran planned to generate more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity from renewable energy resources. Plus, if a joint American and Iranian workshop back in 2010 is any indication, it appears that Iran is very receptive to increasing their solar energy capacity.

Indeed, independent analysts agree with the Iranian assessment of its energy needs - including nuclear power.

"[W]hy should Iran deplete its nonrenewable oil and gas sources when it can, much like the energy-rich United States and Russia, resort to renewable nuclear energy?" asked a New York Times oped on October 14, 2003. "Nuclear reactors have their problems, and they will not resolve Iran's chronic shortage of electricity. Yet they represent an important first step in diversifying Iran's sources for energy." The authors lamented, "Sadly, with their fear of an Iranian bomb, the United States and some of its Western allies have failed to acknowledge Iran's legitimate quest for nuclear energy."

In 2004, even the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of Britain's parliament said that based on a study it commissioned: "It is clear... that the arguments as to whether Iran has a genuine requirement for domestically produced nuclear electricity are not all, or even predominantly, on one side." A 2006 Energy Tribune article argued that, "given Iran's ongoing energy struggles, it makes sense, both economically and from an energy point of view, for the country to be pursuing nuclear power." A 2007 essay published in the journal Atoms For Peace noted, "Rapid growth in Iran's domestic energy demand and its dependence on oil exports for revenue has forced it to consider alternative future energy solutions."

A 2009 Foreign Policy article by Christopher de Bellaigue, for instance, concurs with these conclusions when directly challenging the claim that "Iran Has No Use for Nuclear Power." De Bellaigue writes that this is "False," and goes on to explain:
Iran is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and has the world's second-largest natural gas reserves. But its energy needs are rising faster than its ability to meet them. Driven by a young population and high oil revenues, Iran's power consumption is growing by around 7 percent annually, and its capacity must nearly triple over the next 15 years to meet projected demand.
Where will the electricity come from? Not from the oil sector. It is retarded by U.S. sanctions, as well as inefficiency, corruption, and Iran's institutionalized distrust of Western investors. Since 1995, when the sector was opened to a handful of foreign companies, Iran has added 600,000 barrels per day to its crude production, enough to offset depletion in aging fields, but not enough to boost output, which has stagnated at around 3.7 million barrels per day since the late 1990s. Almost 40 percent of Iran's crude oil is consumed locally. If this figure were to rise, oil revenues would fall, spelling the end of the strong economic growth the country has enjoyed since 1999. Plugging the gap with natural gas is not possible — yet. Iran's gigantic gas reserves are only just being tapped, so Iran remains a net importer.
But there's something else.

A decade ago, Dick Cheney himself voiced the age-old line about Iran, a hydrocarbon-rich country, not needing alternative sources of energy. "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas," he said. "Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy." Henry Kissinger echoed this sentiment in an oped, writing that "that "for a major oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources."

But here's the rub: in the mid-1970s, the Ford administration (in which Kissinger, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz themselves held high-level positions) was heavily in favor of Iran's decision - under the Shah - to pursue nuclear energy. A 2005 Washington Post article by Dafna Linzer tells the tale.
Ford's team commended Iran's decision to build a massive nuclear energy industry, noting in a declassified 1975 strategy paper that Tehran needed to "prepare against the time -- about 15 years in the future -- when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply."
Estimates of Iran's oil reserves were smaller then than they are now, but energy experts and U.S. intelligence estimates continue to project that Iran will need an alternative energy source in the coming decades. Iran's population has more than doubled since the 1970s, and its energy demands have increased even more.
The Ford administration -- in which Cheney succeeded Rumsfeld as chief of staff and Wolfowitz was responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency -- continued intense efforts to supply Iran with U.S. nuclear technology until President Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford in 1977.
[...]
In 1975, as secretary of state, Kissinger signed and circulated National Security Decision Memorandum 292, titled "U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation," which laid out the administration's negotiating strategy for the sale of nuclear energy equipment projected to bring U.S. corporations more than $6 billion in revenue. At the time, Iran was pumping as much as 6 million barrels of oil a day, compared with an average of about 4 million barrels daily today.
The shah, who referred to oil as "noble fuel," said it was too valuable to waste on daily energy needs. The Ford strategy paper said the "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."
Of course, because the Shah was a good friend to the US government at the time, the issue of nuclear proliferation never even came up.

In early 2012, Michael Hayden, George W. Bush's CIA and NSA chief, confirmed that opposition to Iran's domestic nuclear program has nothing to do with proliferation fears or international law, but rather regional hegemony, impunity and regime change.

"It's not so much that we don't want Iran to have a nuclear capacity, it's that we don't want this Iran to have it," Hayden told a gathering of analysts, experts and journalists at the Center for the National Interest. "Slow it down long enough and maybe the character [of the Iranian government] changes."

Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said much the same at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. the following month. "When there is a secular and democratic Iran, let them have all the technologies in the world, whatever they like. Not this regime," he said.

Now, years later, regime change remains the ultimate goal of those opposed to a diplomatic solution to this decades-long impasse.

Such is the lie that is the "Iranian nuclear crisis," the bogus propaganda ploy to exert power over one of the only nations on the planet to, three and a half decades ago, successfully break its imperial chains and pursued its own path. It has nothing to do with Iranian proliferation or power generation and everything to do with American and Israeli power projection.

Let's hope this nonsense is soon behind us all.

***** ***** *****

Updated to include more information regarding the Reagan administration's nuclear embargo on Iran.

*****

* This should go without saying, but I find it necessary to point out that I am in no way an advocate of nuclear energy. Clearly, it is not the greatest or safest form of energy production in the world; but that's not the issue here. Nuclear power is very real and widely utilized, promoted and guaranteed via the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Arguing against nuclear power is probably a good idea, but until all nuclear power is done away with, Iran has just as much right to pursue it as any other sovereign nation. (Return to article)

*****

Monday, July 6, 2015

Back to the Bazaar: Fact-Checking the BBC on Iran's Nuclear Program


Reporting on the Iranian nuclear program in the mainstream press has always been fraught with disinformation, misinformation, speculative shorthand, and myriad errors. The BBC is no stranger to such mistakes.

In a new report from Vienna, where nuclear talks continue, the Beeb's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins attempts to give readers some historical context for Iran's nuclear development following the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

He writes:
The new religious leadership inherited a nuclear research programme, but consistently denies expanding it with the aim of making "the bomb".
The big powers have never accepted that, pointing instead to all the Iranian effort to produce highly-enriched uranium in the quantities you could only need to build a bomb, as well as the secrecy and alleged concealment of so much activity which is specifically outlawed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory.
Ok, first, the "big powers" who doubt Iran's sincerity about their nuclear development don't include Russia and China, which have consistently noted in the past decade that Iran's enrichment program is under strict safeguards and there exists no evidence of militarization.

For instance, in September 2012, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov explained, "We, as before, see no signs that there is a military dimension to Iran's nuclear program. No signs."

"We see something different - that there is nuclear material... in Iran that is under the control of inspectors, specialists of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Ryabkov continued. "This nuclear material is not being shifted to military needs, this is officially confirmed by the (IAEA)."

Ok, small point. Moving on...

'Highly Enriched Uranium'

Robbins writes of "all the Iranian effort to produce highly-enriched uranium in the quantities you could only need to build a bomb," which doesn't make sense since Iran has never - ever - produced "highly-enriched uranium," let alone "in the quantities you could only need to build a bomb." This is a total falsehood.

Before the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), signed between Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1, Iran had been enriching UF6 (uranium hexafluoride feedstock) to between 3.5% and 5% U-235 for use as fuel in nuclear power plants and to just under 20% U-235 for use in medical research reactors. Both 5% and 19.75% enriched uranium are considered "low-enriched uranium" (LEU). Neither of these enrichment levels is close to the minimum of 90% U-235, or high-enriched uranium (HEU), needed to produce nuclear bombs. All Iranian enrichment activities and facilities are - and were - under strict IAEA safeguards, round-the-clock surveillance and regular intrusive inspection.

As I wrote yesterday, since JPOA went into effect in January 2014, Iran ceased all enrichment above 5%, diluted or disposed of its entire stockpile of 19.75% LEU, and converted the vast majority of its remaining stockpile of LEU to a form incapable of being weaponized. At every step along the way, Iran has been in full compliance with its obligations.

Tellingly, the BBC often refers to 19.75% enriched uranium as "higher-enriched" material, despite the fact that there is no such designation as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) itself. The IAEA glossary (p.205-6) is clear: "high enriched uranium" or HEU is "uranium containing 20% or more of the isotope 235U," while "low enriched uranium" or LEU is "enriched uranium containing less than 20% of the isotope 235U." There is no such thing as "medium" or "higher" enriched uranium except in media articles purposefully alluding to a potential Iranian nuclear weapons threat that doesn't exist.

Robbins' claim that Iran has gone to great lengths "to produce highly-enriched uranium" is 100% incorrect. Making such a suggestion is ignorant in the extreme.

What's even stranger is that the BBC already knows this. Back in March 2009, it reported on National Intelligence director Dennis Blair's testimony to Congress that affirmed "that Iran does not have any highly enriched uranium."

Violating the NPT?

The rest of Robbins' sentence compounds the error. He claims allegations of nuclear weapons work and Iranian duplicity have merit since Iran has concealed "so much activity which is specifically outlawed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

Except Iran has done no such thing.

In fact, nothing Iran has ever done in its procurement of nuclear technology and mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle has ever contravened its obligations under the NPT since it has never been found to have diverted any fissile material to a weapons program. Iran's past noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards - due to its "failure to report" otherwise totally legal activities - is not the same as violating the NPT. Even so, in November 2003, the IAEA affirmed that "to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme." And the following year, after extensive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities were conducted under the auspices of the IAEA's intrusive Additional Protocol (implemented voluntarily by Iran for two years) the IAEA again concluded that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."

IAEA investigations into Iran's previously undeclared activities, as adjudicated by a 2007 Work Plan, resolved all of the initial outstanding questions that led the IAEA to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council in the first place - all of them in Iran's favor.

In March 2013, Nobel laureate Hans Blix, who previously headed both the IAEA and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), affirmed that "Iran has not violated NPT and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons."

Even the Congressional Research Service, whose analysis heavily favors the U.S. government's interpretation of international law, has stated, as recently as June 25, 2015, that it is "unclear" whether or not Iran has ever violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, noting that the "U.N. Security Council has never declared Iran to be in violation of the NPT" and "the IAEA has never reported that Iran has attempted to develop nuclear weapons."

Lingering Colonial Tropes

For all of Robbins' dubious journalism, perhaps nothing is as offensive as his quoting of remarkably Orientalist statements made by former diplomat Sir John Sawers about Iranians. Sawers, who Robbins writes was "chief British negotiator with Iran from 2003 to 2007, and after that the UK's representative on the UN Security Council when sanctions against Iran were being decided," speaks like Rowan Atkinson doing a Cecil Rhodes impression.

"Sir John," Robbins writes, "from all his years negotiating with Iran, is blunt: 'Whenever you buy a carpet in Iran, you have to buy it two, three times over.'" Sawers adds, "You sometimes feel that is the same in the nuclear negotiations as well. There is an Iranian saying that the real negotiation only begins once the agreement is signed. They will always come back for more."
If that's not bad enough, the section of the BBC article containing these statements bears the subheading, "Carpet sales tales." Really.

Allusions to Persian rug merchants, wily bazaari haggling, and devious and duplicitous wheeling and dealing - all this is expected from the Wall Street Journal's neocon editors and career propagandists like Michael Oren. But Robbins and his editors at the BBC?

They really should do better.

*****

Friday, July 3, 2015

On Iran's Nuclear Program, Ghosh's "Gotcha" is Nothing But Smoke

Bobby Ghosh

"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs."
-Albert Einstein


Bobby Ghosh, former TIME contributor and currently managing editor at Quartz, decided on Tuesday to produce some absurd, mouth-breathing click-bait - the kind of deliberately sloppy disinformation that serves only to further chum the waters of public opinion with the false narratives and grotesque stereotypes that have long been the stock-in-trade of agenda-driven, attention-seeking commentators about Iran and its nuclear program.

Here's the headline:


There's a quick answer to this leading - and deceiving - question: No, no he did not.

There's a longer answer, too, which we'll get to in a minute.

Ghosh, in his desire to expose what he thinks is a "gotcha" moment from a recent Iranian media interview with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, eagerly and disingenuously conflates uranium enrichment with nuclear weapons development. In doing so, he reveals himself to be more interested in delivering page views to his website and dishing out conventional wisdom than in reporting truthfully and critically about an important international issue.

Ghosh notes that, during an interview with Iranian media about the pending nuclear deal with six world powers, Rouhani said that "if the other side breaches the deal, we will go back to the old path, stronger than what they can imagine." Ghosh omitted Rouhani's initial comment, "If we reach a deal, both sides should be committed to it."

What gets Ghosh's goat is Rouhani's reference to "the old path," that is, the allusion to Iran's previous state of nuclear development, as opposed to its current restricted program under the interim deal and what results from a potential negotiated multilateral agreement.

Conceding that Iranian officials have long "sworn, over and over again, that [Iran] has never pursued nuclear weapons," Ghosh then gets to the crux of his claim:
If we're to believe the regime's claim, then Rouhani's threat makes no sense. The "old path" would simply be more "peaceful" nuclear research, allowing the sanctions to continue devastating the Iranian economy. That's not so much a threat as a flagellant's cry for help: "If you go back on your word, I’ll hurt myself."
To jump to such a conclusion requires a remarkably mistaken understanding of both the history of Iran's nuclear program and either the ignorance or dismissal of the massive concessions it has already made during ongoing international talks. Ghosh apparently suffers from both.

In an emblematically Ghoshian column on why the Iranian government is eviler than the Cuban government, Ghosh wrote on December 18, 2014, that Iran "was caught trying to build nuclear-weapons technology as recently as 2002, when its secret facilities at Arak and Nataz [sic] were discovered. Thereafter, under pressure from the US and the international community, the Tehran regime backed down from its policy of developing dual-use nuclear technology (for energy and weapons) and promised not to build bombs."

There's a lot wrong here, but I'll try to be quick (not my strong suit).

The facilities at Arak and Natanz were never "secret" nor do they "build nuclear-weapons technology." In 2002, they were both under construction and non-operational. Iran was, at that point, not obligated to declare their existence to the IAEA. Arak was designed as a power plant, Natanz is an enrichment site. Upon declaration, both have been subject to IAEA safeguards for over a decade. Iran's interest in developing an uranium enrichment industry has been open knowledge (and publicly acknowledged) since shortly after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

The Iranian government never "backed down" from a "policy of developing dual-use technology" and "promised not to build bombs" as Ghosh claims. Such a claim is bizarre. Beyond the fact that, as an original signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has in effect "promised not to build [nuclear] bombs" since 1968 and Iranian officials have - since at least the early 1990s - constantly and consistently condemned and prohibited any domestic development of nuclear weapons (not only after 2002), it is literally impossible for any nation with an ongoing enrichment program to stop the acquisition of "dual-use" nuclear infrastructure since every single enrichment program on Earth is inherently dual-use: enriched uranium can be used for both energy or weaponry.

With this false narrative, Ghosh has, however, set up a convenient straw man with which to bandy about his erroneous assumptions of Iran's nuclear past. This brings us back to his recent article.

In trying to hash out what Rouhani's "old path" statement means, Ghosh establishes two options - the bluff or the blackmail - one of which, he claims, must be true. The bluff is that, in Ghosh's words, "There’s no “old path,” and Tehran is simply trying to frighten the P5+1 into relenting on the remaining sticking points at the negotiating table in Vienna."

The blackmail, on the other hand, is a damning admission by the Iranian leader of a clandestine nuclear weapons program Iran has long denied having. "The alternative," Ghosh writes, "is that Rouhani has unwittingly revealed that Iran was indeed pursuing nukes. That would be a real threat, especially if he is also sincere in pursuing this path 'stronger than what they can imagine.'"

But there is a third option, unacknowledged by Ghosh, which is the most obvious and most accurate: Rouhani is not talking about a nuclear weapons program to return to, but rather the reestablishment of full-scale uranium enrichment, which has been curtailed by Iran's obligations under the terms of its diplomatic agreements since January 2014.

Ghosh doesn't tell his readers that, in the same interview he cites as "fascinating" and "belligerent," Rouhani said of his international interlocutors, "If they claim that they want to prevent the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, they should know that Iran has never sought to build nuclear weapons." Obviously, such a statement - in the very same interview - severely undermines the credibility of Ghosh's blackmail or blunder claim that Rouhani has either purposely or accidentally revealed something alarming about its nuclear work.

Under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action, agreed to by Iran and the six powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States - known as the P5+1, Iran has halted all enrichment above 5%, diluted or disposed of its entire stockpile of 19.75% low-enriched uranium (LEU), converted the vast majority of its remaining stockpile of LEU to a form incapable of being weaponized, suspended upgrades and construction on its safeguarded nuclear facilities at Natanz, Fordow, and Arak, and allowed unprecedented access to its program by IAEA inspectors.

At every single juncture, Iran has complied fully with the demands of the plan.

All Rouhani was saying, therefore, is that these commitments - which were negotiated and agreed to by Iran, not imposed forcibly by foreign countries - would no longer be binding and Iran would resume its previous course of action, or "the old path." This previous course of action, still, was anything but a mysterious, opaque, nefarious development of dubious and deadly technology. Rather, even before current talks began, Iran's was the most heavily-scrutinized nuclear program on the planet and had been for years.

Rouhani's statement, therefore, was actually a fairly innocuous clarification of the fact that, if the P5+1 reneges on its own negotiated commitments, Iran will no longer abide by the deal either. That's hardly cause for Ghosh to collapse on his fainting couch.

What Ghosh also doesn't point out is that there is clear historical precedent for Rouhani's statement.

A dozen years ago, Iran's then-nascent uranium enrichment program was the subject of intensive diplomacy between Iran and the EU-3, shorthand for Britain, France and Germany. It was on Rouhani's watch - he was secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and lead negotiator at the talks - that Iran voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment in 2003 and accepted intrusive inspections above and beyond what was legally required by its safeguards agreement as talks progressed. During this period, the IAEA affirmed the peaceful nature of the program.

In mid-2004, with Iran fully complying with its obligations under Saadabad Agreement of October 2003, the negotiations were strained by the prospect of a new European-drafted IAEA resolution against Iran. President Mohammad Khatami told the press, in terms strikingly similar to Rouhani's recent statement, that Iran's voluntary suspension of enrichment would thus be endangered if the resolution passed.

"If the draft resolution proposed by the European countries is approved by the IAEA, Iran will reject it," Khatami said on June 18, 2004. "If Europe has no commitment toward Iran, then Iran will not have a commitment toward Europe."

A month later, Khatami insisted that "nothing stands in the way" of Iran "building and assembling centrifuges designed for uranium enrichment," reported the Associated Press.

Throughout the first half of 2005, Iranian officials were still intent on resolving the nuclear impasse through diplomacy with Europe, but explained that the resumption of "full-scale enrichment" was the ultimate goal of the talks, along with assurances that the program would remain forever peaceful.

Following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2005, outgoing president Khatami made the Iranian position clear. "We will never overlook our legal and national right for possessing nuclear technology and fuel cycle to generate electricity. Iran will never change its national policy in this respect," he said, adding, "We have made it clear that suspension of uranium enrichment will not be forever. We have displayed our good faith. Now, it is the turn of the European friends to do in line with the commitments they have made about the matter."

Regardless of the offer soon to be put forward by the EU-3, Khatami reiterated that Iran would resume its conversion activities and eventually enrichment as well, in line with its inalienable rights to development domestic, civilian nuclear technology. "I hope that the Europeans' proposals will, as agreed, allow for the resumption of [nuclear activities]," Khatami told reporters in late July 2005. "But if they do not agree, the system has already made its decision to resume [uranium conversion] at Isfahan."

Uranium conversion restarted in early August 2005.

It was only after Iran's European negotiating partners, at the behest of the Americans, reneged on their promise to offer substantive commitments and respect Iran's inalienable right to a domestic nuclear infrastructure that talks dissolved and Iran resumed enrichment. The proposal eventually brought to Iran by Western negotiators on August 5, 2005 has been described as "vague on incentives and heavy on demands," and even dismissed by one EU diplomat as "a lot of gift wrapping around an empty box."

In his 2011 memoir, former IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei described the European position in 2005 this way: "When Iran was already suspending its enrichment program, all it got in return was an offer made of hot air" due to the sad fact that the Europeans "were too afraid of opposition by the Americans to promise Iran Western nuclear power technology," as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Thus, ElBaradei explained, the Iranians felt "they were being taken for a ride. And that is how this series of diplomatic failures began."

The resumption of full-scale enrichment by Iran had nothing to do with nuclear weapons, as the IAEA has affirmed consistently in quarterly reports over the past decade that no fissile material has ever been diverted to military purposes. Lingering questions about Iran's past work have long been debunked as unfounded allegations for which no credible evidence actually exists.

Rouhani's statement about "the old path" - that is, the legal and inalienable right of Iran to enrich uranium under international safeguards and supervision - therefore reveals nothing not previously known.

On the other hand, Ghosh's reaction to Rouhani's statement reveals the extent to which Ghosh himself will go to demonize and propagandize about Iran and its nuclear program. If he can't get the small stuff like this right, why are we listening to him about anything at all?

*****

Disclosure: I am an (often erstwhile) editor for the online magazine Muftah, which has recently announced a new partnership with Quartz, where Mr. Ghosh is managing editor.

*****

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Von Hippel's "Really Good Idea" to Resolve the Nuclear Impasse Was Actually Iran's Idea First


Yesterday in The National Interest, Frank von Hippel, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, floats the possibility of opening Iran's domestic uranium enrichment program to international investment. Doing so, Von Hippel contends, would automatically "add a multinational layer of supervision to the program," as countries that "buy shares in its enrichment program" would do so "in exchange for having full access to all the associated facilities and a say in how they are managed."

For those who still insist on pretending that Iran's legal, safeguarded nuclear energy program is "a threat to regional stability" that will be summarily unleashed from the tethers of agreed-to restrictions after the imminent multilateral deal allegedly sunsets a decade from now, Von Hippel's suggestion should inspire confidence. With foreign investment and multinational involvement in the entire nuclear fuel cycle, coupled with the IAEA's strict monitoring and inspection regime which has already long been in place, the potential for Iran's program to ever be secretly militarized is virtually nil.

Furthermore, according to Von Hippel, offering such foreign stake in this Iranian industry "would mitigate the pressure on Saudi Arabia and other regional rivals of Iran to assert their own rights to 'peaceful' enrichment programs. Indeed, the door should be open for them to buy a share in the multinational program as well."

The article's headline calls Von Hippel's proposal to open up Iran's enrichment program to multinational partnerships, "A Really Good Idea."

And it is.

Except, while certainly a good idea, this isn't actually a new idea. In fact, this very offer was made over a dozen years ago - by Iran.

It is true that Von Hippel, whose National Interest post is a pared down version of a longer, more detailed (and less alarmist) article he co-authored in the June 19 issue of Science magazine, does make passing reference to the fact that "[s]enior Iranian officials have expressed openness to discussing multi-nationalization." But this is a gross understatement considering Iran's leadership and consistency on this issue.

Since its early stages, in fact, Iran has offered specifically to restrict its enrichment program and to open it up to international cooperation, thereby making it literally impossible for the diversion of fissile material to weaponization efforts to take place unnoticed. As I have noted before, Iran was already making such gestures nearly a quarter century ago, only to be rebuffed, denied, ignored and dismissed by the United States.

On November 6, 1991, Reza Amrollahi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on national radio, "With the exception of the United States, Israel and the racist South African regime, we will have nuclear cooperation with any country within the framework of the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

In October 1992, for instance, in response to American concern over indications that Iran was pursuing a domestic enrichment program, Iran not only "repeatedly denied any non-peaceful intentions, stating that it accepts full-scope IAEA safeguards," but also "indicated it is prepared to accept enhanced safeguards measures on both nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia and China, as well as having no objections to the return of the spent fuel to the country of origin as a similar agreement had been concluded with Germany during the 1970s."

On July 1, 2003 - exactly 12 years ago today - Reuters reported that none other than Hassan Rouhani, then Secretary-General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran was "ready to accept the participation of other big industrialized countries in its [uranium] enrichment projects," specifically as a means to resolve any questions over whether its nuclear program was peaceful and civilian in nature.

Following its voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment and implementation of the Additional Protocol as confidence-building measures during negotiations with the EU-3, Iran again raised the prospect of multinational collaboration. On March 23, 2005, the Iranians presented a four-phase plan to their European negotiating partners intended to end the nuclear impasse once and for all. It called for Iran to resume uranium enrichment, with EU cooperation, and for the Majlis (Iranian parliament) to begin the process of approving legislation that would permanently ban the "production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons."

Iran's offer came on the heels of the IAEA's own expert endorsement of multinational investment in enrichment programs.

This was not merely the stance of the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami, either. In his first address before the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005, newly-inaugurated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that, as a "confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran. This represents the most far reaching step, outside all requirements of the NPT, being proposed by Iran as a further confidence building measure."

In early November 2005 it was widely reported that "the Iranian government is allowing the country's atomic energy agency to seek local or foreign investors for its currently suspended uranium enrichment activities." Such investment, directed toward the Natanz facility then under construction in central Iran, would be sought "from the public or private sectors."

Days later, Iranian state-run television stated that Iran would offer the international community "a 35% share in its uranium enrichment programme as a guarantee" that its nuclear program "won't be diverted toward weapons." This investment would allow "foreign countries and companies a role in Iran's uranium enrichment programme," providing the opportunity for such entities and organizations to "practically contribute in and monitor the uranium enrichment in Natanz." Gholamreza Aghazade, an Iranian vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told the press that this offer was "maximum concession" Tehran could offer for transparency. "The 35% share is not only investment," he said. "They will have a presence in the process (of uranium enrichment) and production (of nuclear fuel)."

"It's the best kind of international supervision totally negating any possibility of diversion (toward weapons)," Aghazade explained.

Later that month, on November 18, 2005, in yet another publicly presented proposal, the Iranian government repeated the offer set forth earlier that year, reiterating its willingness to officially ban nuclear weapons development through legislation, cap its level and scope of enrichment, immediately convert its enriched uranium to fuel rods "to preclude even the technical possibility of further enrichment" towards weapons-grade and "to provide unprecedented added guarantees" to the IAEA that its program would remain peaceful. The proposal, issued by Iran's permanent mission to the United Nations, reiterated Iran's "[a]cceptance of partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran which engages other countries directly and removes any concerns."

Iran's offers were routinely rejected by the United States government, which maintained the absurd position that Iran capitulate to its demand of zero enrichment on Iranian soil. "We cannot have a single centrifuge spinning in Iran," declared George W. Bush's undersecretary of state for arms control Robert Joseph in early 2006.

In an April 5, 2006 oped in the New York Times, Iran's then UN ambassador Javad Zarif laid out a number of proposals for resolving the nuclear standoff. In addition to affirming Iran's continued commitment to the NPT, acceptance of limitations on enrichment, and its stance against "the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons," Zarif stated Iran's willingness to "[a]ccept foreign partners, both public and private, in our uranium enrichment program." He continued:
Iran has recently suggested the establishment of regional consortiums on fuel-cycle development that would be jointly owned and operated by countries possessing the technology and placed under atomic agency safeguards.
In an article for the Los Angeles Times at the end of that same year, Zarif reminded readers of these overtures, none of which were ever responded to by the United States.

Multinational investment in Iran's enrichment program was endorsed by nuclear experts and MIT researchers Geoff Forden and John Thomson in various articles and reports in 2006 and 2007, as well as by former American diplomats Thomas R. Pickering and William Luers and nuclear expert Jim Walsh in an essay for the New York Review of Books in early 2008. Wholly in line with what Iranian officials had been saying for years, Pickering, Luers and Walsh wrote that a "jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and other governments... provides a realistic, workable solution to the US–Iranian nuclear standoff." Such a program, they wrote, "will reduce the risk of proliferation and create the basis for a broader discussion not only of our disagreements but of our common interests as well."

"Given the enhanced transparency of a multilateral arrangement and the constant presence in Iran of foreign monitors that such a plan would require," the authors added, any "diversion of material or technology to a clandestine program" would be easily detected. Senators Chuck Hagel and Dianne Feinstein both responded positively to the proposal. The Bush administration dismissed it out of hand.

Iranian officials again endorsed the concept of opening its nuclear program to international investment and collaboration during a March 2008 conference in Tehran.

In a comprehensive package proposed to the United Nations on May 13, 2008, Iran's foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki wrote that Iran was still ready to consider, among a great many other things, "Establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world - including in Iran."

Reporting on the proposal shortly thereafter, The Guardian's Julian Borger noted that while the consortium idea was gaining traction in American "foreign policy circles," it was still "resisted by the US, French and British governments." An unnamed "British official" told Borger, "We would be ready to discuss it, as soon as Iran does what it knows it has to," that is, suspend its enrichment program, an obvious and long-known nonstarter for post-2005 negotiations.

By resurrecting the notion of multinational investment in Iran's enrichment program, Von Hippel does the conversation over nuclear negotiations a great service. Despite past difficulties regarding Iran's stake in the Eurodif consortium and a history of American deception and deliberate denialism in breach of its NPT obligations, the prospect of international acceptance and cooperation in Iran's nuclear industry is still an excellent way out of this manufactured crisis.

But leaving out the fact that Iran itself has long been the leading champion of such a proposal unfortunately doesn't give credit where credit is due.

*****

Friday, May 29, 2015

Crossed Wires? Reuters & Associated Press Present Conflicting Information on Proposed Iran Inspections


A Reuters wire service dispatch published today on lingering IAEA questions about alleged past Iranian research ends with the following statement:
Iran has ruled out any nuclear inspector access to its military bases, a position rejected by the Western powers.
While the merits of the allegations about Iran's previous work remains suspect, this particular claim - that Iran is refusing to admit any inspectors access to non-safeguarded, non-nuclear sites - is curious in light of a report published this past Sunday by the Associated Press, another major international newswire.

That report, filed from Tehran by AP correspondent Ali Akbar Dareini, bears the following headline:


Dareini writes that, contrary to a previous statement by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refusing IAEA access to military facilities, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told state television that "Iran has agreed to grant managed access to military sites." This approach was confirmed by Ahmad Shoohani, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, who explained, "Managed access will be in a shape where U.N. inspectors will have the possibility of taking environmental samples from the vicinity of military sites."

So which one is it? No military site visits, as reported by Reuters today, or "managed access" to certain sites, as reported by the Associated Press five days ago? It seems pretty clear that it's the latter.

Is it Reuters policy to ignore AP reports or did the report's author Michael Shields and editor Mark Heinrich just make a mistake? Perhaps the real question at this point is, when will Reuters update the piece and issue a correction? Time will tell.

*****

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Washington Post and the "Nuclear Weapons Program" That Wasn't


Back on April 27, the Washington Post updated an article about a new poll showing that, despite ongoing multilateral talks, over one-fifth of Republicans currently support a military attack on Iran. The short piece referenced John McCain's infamous 2007 "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran" quote (sung by a terrible old man to the tune of "Barbara Ann"), but soon after it was published the Post issued the following humble correction and clarification:


Kudos to the Post for forthrightly addressing and correcting such an appalling mistake. It's comforting that the author is as embarrassed and remorseful as he seems. He should be. Yeeesh. (Still, it's questionable whether The Beach Boys should ever be described as oldies, in the "Golden Oldies" sense, and even more suspect to place The Beatles in that - or any - category.)

Unfortunately, the article, written by Aaron Blake for the paper's "The Fix" blog, contains another egregious error - and this one has yet to be remedied.

In describing the recent Quinnipiac poll in which bombing Iran is supported by 13% of Americans (including 21% of self-identifying Republicans) over continuing nuclear negotiations, Blake notes that, in official circles, "basically nobody is talking about the United States taking military action to rein in Iran's nuclear weapons program — at least at this point."

At this point, it should be perfectly clear to professional journalists and their editors that international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have, however, is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes have ever been detected. This is consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said there is "no concrete proof" Iran's nuclear program "has ever had" a military component.

The poll, albeit misleading and speculative, is more careful in its language than Blake's summary. Here's the full question posed to respondents: "Would you prefer military intervention against Iran's nuclear program or a negotiated settlement to reduce its nuclear potential?"

The conflation of Iran's nuclear energy program with a nonexistent nuclear weapons program, as Blake demonstrates here, has plagued the news media for years and served to grossly misinform the public on the realities of Iranian intentions and capabilities. Though you wouldn't know it from Blake's report, Iran has no "nuclear weapons program" for the United States - or anyone else - "to rein in."

Perhaps more disappointing is that Blake's offending phrase was published in the first place, especially considering that this precise issue of conflation, journalistic shorthand, and loose language has been specifically addressed before by Blake's own paper.

In December 2011, Patrick B. Pexton, then The Washington Post's ombudsman, challenged the paper's routinely irresponsible and alarmist reporting on Iran's nuclear program, writing that the IAEA "does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one," and warned that such misleading characterizations of such an important issue "can also play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran."

Others in similar roles at leading media organizations concurred. The following month, in January 2012, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane responded to reader complaints that the paper's reporting on Iran's nuclear program was misleading and that the use of shorthand phrases legitimized and perpetuated false narratives. Brisbane agreed.

"I think the readers are correct on this...In this case, the distinction between the two [a nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program] is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli," he wrote.

Days later, National Public Radio ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos weighed in. "Shorthand references are often dangerous in journalism, and listeners are correct to be on the alert for them," he noted. "Repeated enough as fact - 'Iran's nuclear weapons program' - they take on a life of their own." Schumacher-Matos added that, at the behest of NPR's Senior Editor for National Security Bruce Auster, "NPR's policy is to refer in shorthand to Iran's 'nuclear program' and not 'nuclear weapons program'" and concluded, "This is a correct formula."

The next year, in June 2013, The Guardian's Readers' Editor Chris Elliott reached a similar conclusion, agreeing that the use of the term "nuclear weapons program" with regard to Iran is misleading and should be avoided.

In September 2013, after leaving the Post, Pexton chimed in again, doubling down on his assessment that speculating on Iranian intentions had no place in news reporting, especially when there is no evidence of a weapons program.

Offhand, erroneous descriptions repeated constantly in the media clearly go a long way toward turning an evidence-free speculation and hawkish talking point into an assumed fact. Throughout his own post, Blake's tone is that of disbelief that over a tenth of the America public would want to bomb Iran rather than support diplomacy. Perhaps the problem is that they've been reading - and believing - reports like the one Blake himself wrote.

Considering the Post's well-known editorial line on Iran and past disregard for the suggestions of its former ombudsman (a position the paper eliminated permanently following Pexton's departure in early 2013), there is little hope that Blake's phrase will be corrected.

But, hey, at least they eventually got the Beatles thing right. For chrissake, people.

h/t Nick Bilton

*****

Friday, May 8, 2015

Larry Mendte Gets It So Wrong:
How Persistent Iraq Mythologies Inspire Bad Analysis on Iran


Earlier this week, Kayvon Afshari, communications director for the American Iranian Council, appeared on Another Thing with veteran broadcaster Larry Mendte to discuss the state of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and the prospect, in the face of powerful opposition, of a final deal being reached in the coming weeks.

While Afshari's pro-diplomacy optimism was backed up by important facts not often heard in the media, Mendte made a number of comments that betrayed his role as an ostensibly objective and informed interviewer.

Right off the bat, for instance, Mendte describes the ongoing talks as a negotiation about an "Iranian nuclear arms deal." That's a bizarre - albeit revealing - way to begin, namely because that's not what this is. If anything, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a nuclear arms deal, one signed back in 1968 by Iran and ratified two year later, as it proscribes all non-nuclear weapons signatories to forever forgo the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

What Iran is negotiating with six world powers about is accepting verifiable limits and constraints on its peaceful, civilian, non-weaponized, non-military, safeguarded nuclear energy program in exchange for the lifting of international and unilateral sanctions and the normalization of its nuclear dossier.

This is not an "arms deal," as Iran has no "arms" to give up. The United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran doesn't even have a nuclear weapons program, let alone nuclear weapons. Iranian officials, for decades, have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds. The IAEA has found no credible evidence that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program.

As the conversation gets underway, Mendte repeats the tired claim that Iran is just biding its time under intense and intrusive scrutiny until - years from now - when it will suddenly emerge with a deadly nuclear arsenal manufactured out of thin air:
The way I understand the deal, and I think some of the people that are critical of it, is that there'd be a decade-long moratorium and then, the president has admitted in an article, in an interview, that after that decade-long moratorium, Iran could start up a nuclear program just like that. As a matter fact, they could advance the program during that decade and then be able to start up, for 10 years. This just puts off the inevitable. Is that fair?
Obviously this is not "fair" and Mendte's understanding of the deal, or anything having to do with Iran or its nuclear program for that matter, is effectively nonexistent.

Afshari rightly points out to Mendte that Iran already has a nuclear program, one that is legal and guaranteed under the NPT, also noting, "It's not as though there's going to be no inspections after ten years. There's still going to be strict inspections, but they'll be loosened after that initial ten years."

Mendte is quick to jump in. "We had strict inspections in Iraq. That didn't turn out really well," he patronizingly tells Afshari, continuing, "The reason we went into Iraq, people forget, in the first place, is because the inspectors were thrown out and not allowed in. [There were] supposed to be UN inspections and he [Saddam Hussein] didn't allow it."

When Afshari replies that the analogy is a stretch as Iran has never kicked out inspectors and that Iraq's nuclear program was very different than Iran's, Mendte is undeterred, insisting on playing out his analogy. "There was a nuclear arms deal in place" before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he says, "and what I'm saying is that lead to the Iraq War. I mean, I know there [were] other factors including 9/11, including President Bush wanting to go after Iraq, but that was the catalyst: the fact that they left out UN inspectors, if you remember at the time."

While Afshari is a gracious guest and tries to steer the conversation back on track, he really shouldn't have been so accommodating to Mendte's version of history. Basically, he should have told him he was flat-out wrong. Beyond the fact that Mendte seems to have forgotten that Bush administration claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were false (and that there was no "nuclear arms deal in place" with Iraq), his claim about international inspectors is also completely bogus. How so, you ask?

Saddam never kicked inspectors out of Iraq.

This claim is a canard, a wholesale myth, a straight-up falsehood. It was built up by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq and dutifully reinforced by the mainstream media. In fact, between late November 2002 and mid-March 2003, weapons inspectors from the IAEA and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) conducted more than 750 inspections at 550 sites in Iraq.

In January 2003, UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix told reporters that inspectors had been "covering the country in ever wider sweeps" for months but "haven't found any smoking guns." An Associated Press dispatch from the time noted, "In almost two months of surprise visits across Iraq, U.N. arms monitors have inspected 13 sites identified by U.S. and British intelligence agencies as major 'facilities of concern,' and reported no signs of revived weapons building."

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei delivered a report to the U.N. Security Council on March 7, 2003, during which he spoke of increased Iraqi cooperation with international inspections and thoroughly dismantled Bush administration claims about aluminum tubes, high-strength magnets, and importing yellowcake from Niger. ElBaradei concluded, "After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq" and clearly stated the intention "to continue our inspection activities."

Inspections ended abruptly eleven days later, on March 18, 2003, for one reason: the United States was about to start dropping bombs all over the place.

"In early March," Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" blog wrote in 2011, Blix "began getting warnings from senior U.S. and British officials about the safety of the inspectors. Then the company that supplied helicopters for the teams withdrew its equipment from Iraq."

News reports at the time leave no doubt as to what really happened.

"In the clearest sign yet that war with Iraq is imminent, the United States has advised U.N. weapons inspectors to begin pulling out of Baghdad, the U.N. nuclear agency chief said Monday," reported the Associated Press on March 17, 2003. The article continued:
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the recommendation was given late Sunday night both to his Vienna-based agency hunting for atomic weaponry and to the New York-based teams looking for biological and chemical weapons."
"Late last night... I was advised by the U.S. government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad," ElBaradei told the IAEA's board of governors.
Within hours, the evacuation began. "U.N. weapons inspectors climbed aboard a plane and pulled out of Iraq on Tuesday after President Bush issued a final ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to step down or face war," AP reported the next day. "U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday ordered all U.N. inspectors and support staff, humanitarian workers and U.N. observers along the Iraq-Kuwait border to evacuate Iraq after U.S. threats to launch war."

"[A]t no time did Iraq throw out the inspectors," wrote Kessler, in an attempt to forever put these talking points to rest. "[I]nspectors voluntarily ended their mission because of the threat of military action by the United States and its allies.

Larry Mendte's regurgitation of Rumsfeldian propaganda - 13 years after the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq - should cast doubt on his credibility as a broadcaster. Let's hope a correction and mea culpa are forthcoming - not to mention an apology to Afshari.

*****

UPDATE:

May 10, 2015 - I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by Larry Mendte's inability to grasp basic facts. A quick look at some of his past rants on Iran makes clear he's long bought into the most bellicose and alarmist propaganda pushed by Iran hawks and is incapable of any semblance of critical thought. He sees the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as warnings to other nations, not as lessons to be learned about jingoism, faulty intelligence, war crimes, and imperial adventurism. He thinks Iran has a "nuclear weapons program." He thinks sanctions "brought Iran to the negotiating table." He says he knows that Iran wants a nuclear bomb.

Larry Mendte bloviates like he's in a Darrell Hammond sketch. With one exception: he should be taken far less seriously.


*****