Thursday, August 27, 2015

iSideWhiff: Presidential Poll Site Gets Iran Deal Totally Wrong

You've probably heard of; it's the site with that helpful quiz that tells you which of the presidential candidates you most agree (and disagree) with on a range of political and social issues.

The efficacy of the quiz, however, requires the asking of questions based on accurate information. Unfortunately, the single Iran-related query in the poll and the accompanying explanatory information are rife with factual errors. These errors and misinformation undoubtedly shape the ways in which less-informed users understand the issue and how they will respond.

Here's the Iran question:
Should the U.S. conduct targeted airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities?
The iStandWith poll, in its framing of the Iran question, repeats an egregious error. Iran does not have any "nuclear weapons facilities" for the United States (or anyone else, for that matter) to "conduct targeted airstrikes on." Why not? Well, quite simply, because – as affirmed by all American, European and Israeli intelligence communities and others for years now, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – Iran has no nuclear weapons program. All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have collectively concurred since 2007 that, even if Iran had conducted research into nuclear weaponry in the past, this research (which is not itself prohibited under international law) ceased in 2003 and has not resumed. This assessment has been reaffirmed multiple times since.

Not only this, the Iranian leadership is judged time and again not to have even made a decision on whether to embark on a nuclear weapons program (unless, of course, you count the decades-long repetition by the Iranian government that they have indeed made such a decision: and that decision is to never build or acquire a nuclear weapon).

So iStandWith's entire contention is faulty from the start. The U.S. can't bomb Iran's "nuclear weapons facilities" because they don't actually exist. Such a flawed question is sure to elicit mistaken comprehension by respondents unfamiliar with these facts, who are led to believe that Iran is doing something it's not actually doing at all.

For those less informed on this issue, however, iStandWith provides a brief primer for interested users. By clicking a "learn more" button, this paragraph of text is revealed:
In July 2015 the U.S. reached an accord with Iran to limit their ability to put uranium or plutonium in weapons. Iran agreed to turn one nuclear plant into a scientific research facility and shut another one down. Iran agreed to let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect these sites. Critics argue that the deal gave too many concessions to the Iranians including a provision that gives them up to 24 days to grant inspectors access to their facilities. Proponents argue that the deal makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote.
The first sentence – like the last – is reductive, speculative, and incomplete, but okay, fine. It's the stuff in the middle that's extremely problematic and, unfortunately, the mistakes compound rapidly.

iSideWith says: Iran agreed to turn one nuclear plant into a scientific research facility and shut another one down.

The facility at Fordow, which iStandWith describes as a "nuclear plant," is actually a uranium enrichment facility, which, yes, Iran has agreed to convert into an international nuclear, physics, and technology research lab. The installed and operational centrifuges at Fordow will no longer enrich uranium, but will be used for experiments involving non-fissile material.

The other facility referenced above is the Arak heavy-water research reactor, which will not be "shut down," as iStandWith claims. Actually, it is still under construction and, as such, has never been operational, so there’s nothing to "shut down." The Arak reactor, far from being shuttered or dismantled under the agreement, will be reconfigured with international support and will operate under full safeguards as planned.

iSideWith says: Iran agreed to let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect these sites.

The sites mentioned by iStandWith above – Fordow and Arak – have already been inspected regularly by the IAEA for years: Fordow since it was declared in 2009 and Arak since it was declared in 2002. They are fully-safeguarded facilities, under constant IAEA containment and surveillance. Inspections are not the result of the new deal. Many other sites related to Iran's nuclear program are also routinely inspected and have been for years. All nuclear material remains under agency seal, containment and surveillance and no diversion of nuclear material to military purposes has ever been reported.

iSideWith says: Critics argue that the deal gave too many concessions to the Iranians including a provision that gives them up to 24 days to grant inspectors access to their facilities.

This is just all kinds of wrong. All of Iran's declared nuclear facilities and sites (including hospitals that use radioisotopes to treat cancer patients) are already open and accessible to inspectors at all times. This is not a function of the agreement, this is standard practice under Iran's safeguards protocol with the IAEA, in place since 1974. This constant and consistent access now includes, under the new deal, inspections and monitoring of all aspects of Iran's nuclear supply chain, such as centrifuge workshops and uranium mines and mills. These kinds of non-nuclear facilities are not safeguarded anywhere else on Earth. Inspectors have daily access to all of these sites; no provision in the deal limits this. This fact alone is proof of the massive concessions Iran has agreed to to try and end this absurd decades-long charade.

(By the way, no other nation involved in these negotiations has relinquished any aspect of their own sovereignty, inalienable rights or self-determination to achieve this deal. The lifting of sanctions, designed specifically to force Iranian capitulation to American demands, the abrogation of internationally-recognized and guaranteed national nuclear rights, and exact suffering upon the Iranian people, is not a concession - it is the inevitable, and theoretically desired, result of successful diplomacy and voluntary Iranian compromise.)

The specific bone of contention mentioned by iSideWith - the so-called 24-day delay - is also completely misunderstood. For one, the claim has to do with undeclared - non-nuclear - sites where the IAEA may suspect Iran is engaged in proscribed activities. Undeclared sites, such as military bases and research installations, are legally off-limits to inspectors. The seven parties to the deal - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Iran - have attempted to square this circle through a reasonable review process.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, has explained that, rather than 24 days, "the IAEA will need to give only 24 hours' notice before showing up at a suspicious site to take samples. Access could even be requested with as little as two hours' notice, something that will be much more feasible now that Iran has agreed to let inspectors stay in-country for the long term. Iran is obligated to provide the IAEA access to all such sites..."

"What happens if Iran tries to stall and refuses to provide access, on whatever grounds?" Lewis continues, before laying out the parameters of the process:
There is a strict time limit on stalling. Iran must provide access within two weeks. If Iran refuses, the Joint Commission set up under the deal must decide within seven days whether to force access. Following a majority vote in the Joint Commission — where the United States and its allies constitute a majority bloc — Iran has three days to comply. If it doesn't, it's openly violating the deal, which would be grounds for the swift return of the international sanctions regime, known colloquially as the "snap back."
This arrangement is much, much stronger than the normal safeguards agreement, which requires prompt access in theory but does not place time limits on dickering.
What opponents of the deal have done is add up all the time limits and claim that inspections will occur only after a 24-day pause. This is simply not true.
Unfortunately, the guys running iSideWith - Taylor Peck and Nick Boutelier - don't seem to know any of this. But they should, especially since they're claiming to be providing context upon which their users can make informed decisions about supporting an unprovoked and illegal military assault on a country of 80 million people.

It appears that iSideWith should first inform itself before siding with discredited allegations and base propaganda over clear facts. Without a doubt, the Iran poll question should be updated to reflect reality.


1 comment:

Klaus Weiß said...

Isn't it true that the conditions of the Advanced Protocol remain in place, i.e. the inspection of military sites needn't be permitted by Iran?