Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Guardian's Bad Facts:
Error-Filled Article Needed More Editorial Inspection

As if to balance out the always informed and substantive commentary of its regular columnist Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian published an article this past week that provided a glimpse at the consistently sloppy and dishonest narratives promoted by mainstream media when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program.

Published on April 21 in The Guardian's Business section, an article by Rupert Neale reported on the supposed sanctions-evading trade between Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and the massive British commodities broker Glencore.  Since its was first posted to The Guardian website, the article has gone through a number of revisions since, apparently, the newspaper's editors only work in retrospect.

The headline and text originally referenced an "Iranian nuclear weapons programme," for instance, and elsewhere in the body of the article allusions were made to international efforts to "prevent Iran's nuclear armament ambitions," surely a brazenly speculative contention that has no place in a news report. Considering international intelligence assessments consistently affirm that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, referring to such a non-existent program is in rather poor - and factually incorrect - taste.

These errors have since been corrected, though the entire thrust of the piece, whose accusatory tone betrays its political agenda, has been left unchallenged.

Another factual error, however, remains.

In the twelfth paragraph, Neale writes, "Iran insists its enriched material is for peaceful use, not for nuclear weapons, but it has refused to allow IAEA inspectors into several of its atomic facilities."

At no point, has Iran ever - ever - refused IAEA inspectors admission to any of its "atomic facilities." In fact, Iran's nuclear sites and facilities are under video surveillance by the IAEA, are readily accessible to IAEA inspectorsopen to regular inspection, and are subject to material seals application by the Agency.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which often takes a rather cynical, suspicious, and skeptical - if not outright hawkish - view of the Iranian nuclear program, even notes, "The agency inspects all of the enrichment facilities at least twice a month. An additional two unannounced inspections are conducted every month at Fordow and at the pilot enrichment plant at Natanz, where up to 20% enrichment also takes place. Any attempt to further enrich uranium to weapons grade at these facilities would be detected."

Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs has explained on the Arms Control Wonk blog, "There are IAEA safeguards personnel in Iran 24/7/365. They are there to carry out safeguards inspections at 16 declared facilities plus, if deemed necessary, at nine hospitals in Iran that hold nuclear material."  He adds:
The IAEA spends quite a bit of time visiting all three sites. Inspectors are not in the plants all the time, but they enter them frequently and routinely. At Fordow and Natanz, the IAEA carries out two kinds of inspections: "announced inspections" and "short-notice announced inspections." At Esfahan and all other sites the IAEA carries out only "announced inspections."
For active enrichment sites like Fordow and Natanz, IAEA inspectors may conduct "announced inspections" with only "24-hour notification" given to Iran.  Hibbs also states that "Iran's subsidiary arrangements in fact permit the IAEA to conduct a short-notice inspection upon two hours' notice."

Furthermore, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a lecturer at Princeton University, has pointed out, "Since 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has implemented the most robust inspections in its history with more than 100 unannounced and over 4000 man-day inspections in Iran."

No diversion of nuclear material has ever - ever - be found.

In May 2007, the IAEA even felt compelled to publicly deny reports about Iran hampering inspections of its nuclear facilities. "There is no truth to media reports claiming that the IAEA was not able to get access," IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire told reporters. "We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks." He added, “Normally we do not comment on such reports but this time we felt we had to clarify the matter.”

On top of this, IAEA inspectors have consistently had open access to the gas conversion facility at Esfahan and have also monitored the heavy water production plant at Arak, despite these facilities not being explicitly covered by Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

Obviously, by alluding to restricted inspections, Neale is referring to the technical dispute over open IAEA access to the Iranian military complex at Parchin. To put it simply, Parchin is not an "atomic facility." Iran even granted IAEA inspectors access to the site - which is not legally subject to IAEA Safeguards - twice in 2005. The unnecessary obsession with Parchin by some has been well-documented by nuclear experts such as Yousaf Butt and Robert Kelley.

Regardless, Parchin does not fall under the umbrella term that Neale uses: "atomic facilities."  Also, it is clear the intention of such a claim, without any further explanation or documentation, is meant to disingenuously paint Iran as intransigent and secretive, and therefore duplicitous and sinister.

Speaking of Parchin, former IAEA chief Hans Blix has said, "Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site," adding that "the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be."

Robert Kelley, a former IAEA inspector, wrote earlier this year that "the basis for the IAEA's requests [to visit Parchin] continues to be opaque. The timeline for the alleged experiments is also highly suspect, with claims that massive experimental facilities had been fabricated even before they had been designed, according to the available information. The IAEA work to date, including the mischaracterization of satellite images of Parchin, is more consistent with an IAEA agenda to target Iran than of technical analysis."

Besides Parchin, the IAEA is seeking access to no other nuclear (where it has full access) or non-nuclear site (where it legally can't inspect or monitor). The claim that Iran won't grant access to "several" facilities, therefore, compounds the original error and demonstrates both a true lack of knowledge on the part of the writer as well as a deliberate intention to present Iran as intransigent and deceptive.

As has occurred with the other erroneous and speculative statements in Neale's article, will The Guardian's editors correct this one as well?


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