Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Consistency of Official Iranian Commentary:
What 'Death to America' Means Is Obvious

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Photo Credit: Bloomberg)

In a meeting with students this week, Iranian leader Ali Khamenei addressed the meaning of the phrase "Death to America," which gained popularity as a revolutionary slogan over three and a half decades ago in defiance of the U.S.-backed Shah.

"Obviously by 'Death to America', we don't mean death to the American people," Khamenei said. "The American nation is just like the rest of the nations." Rather, he explained, the phrase "means death to the United States' policies, death to arrogance."

Condemning American imperialism in the Middle East and the thirty-five year emphasis on promoting regime change in Iran, Khamenei said, "The truth is that the United States' objectives regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran have not changed at all. And they would not spare a moment if they could destroy the Islamic Republic; but they can't."
That the ubiquitous chant "Death to America" is not a murderous threat (or aspiration) directed at individuals, but rather at the policies and actions of the U.S. government, should be obvious. Nevertheless, many mainstream media reports seemed astounded by Khamenei's explanation, as if this revelation was brand new and signaled a shift from past statements from Iranian officials.

CNN's Don Melvin, for instance, was baffled by Khamenei's explanation, calling it "new" and "convoluted." Melvin was convinced that the Iranian leader was futilely attempting to "redefine the meaning of the slogan."

The Moon of Alabama blog breaks down this phenomenon perfectly:
A typical part of propaganda campaigns is to claim that the "villain" has very recently changed his political positions. Then follows "analysis" which interprets the "change" as a sure sign that the villain is under pressure and on the verge of loosing the fight. Often such claims are completely unfounded as the villain only repeated a long standing position. They are only made to repeat, repeat, repeat ... that the villain is or was up to something bad.
But the actual - and again, obvious - meaning of the phrase has been pointed out numerous times, both in recent memory and beyond.

In an interview with CBS in September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was perfectly clear about what "Death to America" means:
This slogan that is chanted is not a slogan against the American people. Our people respect the American people. The Iranian people are not looking for war with any country, but at the same time the policies of the United States have been against the national interests of Iranian people. It's understandable that people will demonstrate sensitivity to this issue. When the people rose up against the Shah, the U.S. aggressively supported the Shah until the last moments. In the eight year war with Iraq, the Americans supported Saddam. People will not forget these things. We cannot forget the past, but at the same time, our gaze must be towards the future.
A month earlier, in August, journalist Reese Erlich reported for the Global Post (and syndicated by USA Today) how Iranians have always understood the slogan's meaning:
"Death to America" expresses the anger many Iranians feel about U.S. policy toward Iran, said Foad Izadi, an assistant professor of world studies at the University of Tehran. Iranians remember that the U.S. overthrew the legitimate government of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and supported the dictatorial Shah who followed.
The slogan "means death to American foreign policy," said Izadi. Iranians "have problems with the American government, not the American people." In fact, he said, Iranians are friendly to Americans. "When you walk around town, and people see you're an American, everyone wants to take care of you."
In July, it was more of the same. Speaking with The New Yorker's Robin Wright, Rouhani's chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian noted:
If you go and ask anyone who uses that slogan... what he is against, it is interference in Iran's policies by overthrowing a nationally elected prime minister at the time of Mossadegh. For them, what they are against is the kind of government who shoots an airplane full of innocent passengers. For them, it's not the people of America, per se. For them, they are opposed to that sort of policy, that sort of attitude, that sort of arrogance. It's not a nation. It's a system of behavior.
On January 26, 2014, CNN's Fareed Zakaria aired an interview with Rouhani, during which Rouhani said, "Well, the people, when they say 'Death to America,' do you know what they are really saying? What they mean to say relates to the aggressive policies of the U.S. and intervention and meddling by the U.S. We don't want those to continue. We want people to decide for themselves."

But this definition is not only the position of the current administration. Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the West's favorite bogeymen, was equally clear about what the phrase means.

In a February 12, 2007 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, Ahmadinejad said this:
When you heard death to America slogans, I think you know it yourself, it is not related in any way to American public. Our people have no problem with American public and we have a very friendly relationship and this friendship is so great, that I wrote a letter to the American government, the aviation sector of our country and we wanted to establish direct flights from Tehran to New York and we want to have free travel of citizens.
We do not have any problems with the people and right now, for example, we have our scientists and a sportsman traveling to the U.S. The "Death to America" chant you have heard, they go back to some of the policies of Americans, American politicians in Iran. People still remember the support of American politicians for some murders. For example, Saddam, who was hanged, and eight years of war to us, and the current American administration. The current incumbent [vice] president provided support. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian youth were killed and the U.S. administration, instead of doing what was right and supporting Saddam... People are now wishing death for these policies.
Statements by Iranian officials about the "Death to America" slogan have been consistent for a long time. It's about time the press started paying attention and not act so surprised when it inevitably happens again.


To read about other examples of consistent Iranian commentary that has shocked our lazy press, click below:

Part I: Are Rouhani's Statements About the Holocaust Really a Huge Break from the Past?
Part II: Are Rouhani's Statements About Palestine Really a Huge Break from the Past?
Part III: On Khamenei's Referendum Rhetoric, Reuters is Wrong
Part IV: Javad Zarif and the Detrimental Perception of Nuclear Intentions


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Follow-Up on PolitiFact, Where Iran Deal Facts Only Sort Of Matter

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times' fact-checking site PolitiFact published an post debunking some outrageous claims made by presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz about the Iran deal. While PolitiFact's assessment of Cruz's claims were correct, a number of details about the deal itself, as presented in the article, were problematic.

So I wrote my own article addressing these errors and contacted PolitiFact editor Lou Jacobson, who co-authored the Ted Cruz piece, asking for a correction to be made. After all, considering PolitiFact is a valuable resource whose very existence - by definition - relies on and respects accuracy, it is vital they address the mistakes they themselves publish in their own fact-checks.

After corresponding briefly with Jacobson and his own editor, Aaron Sharockman, I was informed that PolitiFact would indeed be issuing a correction on its article. The erroneous PolitiFact claim that the deal compels "Iran to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons," would be replaced with the less inaccurate statement that, under the deal, "Iran will be required to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97 percent."

The update was also accompanied by an official correction:

Well, to be accurate, the "previous version" actually described the uranium differently, not so much the reduction. The original fact-check, as mentioned above, wrongly identified Iran's stockpile as containing "highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons." It does not. Iran has never ever enriched uranium to weapons-grade levels; all fissile material ever stockpiled in Iran has been low-enriched uranium, suitable only for reactor fuel and medical research.

Nevertheless, the correction is certainly a welcome change and my gratitude goes out to PolitiFact, Mr. Sharockman and Mr. Jacobson for addressing this mistake, even if the reason for the correction was deliberately obscured.

But that was only one of the many mistakes PolitiFact made that I wrote about. No other errors were corrected (or even acknowledged in my correspondence with the editors).

For instance, the PolitiFact claims that, by virtue of the multilateral agreement with the P5+1, Iran will "cease production of plutonium, the other element that can be used to build a bomb" and that "[k]nown nuclear sites would be monitored for 15 years to confirm compliance" remain untouched in the article, despite both being false and misleading.

Here are the facts:
  • Iran has never produced plutonium, doesn't have the facilities to do so, and has long declared its intention never to build such facilities. As such, it is not accurate to state that, under the agreement, Iran will "cease" doing something it's never done.
  • Iran's "known nuclear sites" are already under strict IAEA inspection and monitoring, and this will continue long after the terms of the JCPOA (the official name for the Iran deal) concludes - this extends far beyond the 15 years claimed by PolitiFact. IAEA safeguards agreements with Iran are permanent, and are separate from and not subject to stipulations of the deal. It is thus misleading to claim that declared, safeguarded sites will only be monitored "for 15 years to confirm compliance."
It remains incumbent upon PolitiFact to correct all of its errors if it wishes to live up to its own name.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

When It Comes to Nukes, Who Said It: The Pope or Iran?

With its outspoken Pope leading the way, total nuclear disarmament is now on the Vatican's agenda.

In a new article in Defense News, Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione writes about how the Holy See is taking aim at the world's nuclear arsenals. "Up to now, the church has abhorred the inhumanity of these weapons that indiscriminately target innocent civilians and would kill them in massive numbers," Cirincione notes. "But—until now—it has recognized a need for states to have nuclear weapons to deter other countries from launching a nuclear attack on them."

Under the guidance of Pope Francis, this position of begrudging acceptance has now officially changed. The Vatican stands firmly against nuclear weapons as a means of necessary deterrence and has embarked on a campaign calling for the complete, global eradication of all nuclear weapons.

With the multilateral deal over Iran's nuclear energy program still making headlines, the Pope's support of the agreement was an important endorsement. The Catholic leader has expressed his hope that the deal will lead not only to a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, but also to wider - and wholesale - elimination of the planet's existing nuclear arsenals in the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

It is often forgotten that a NWFZ for the Middle East was first proposed by Iran in 1974. Even after the fall of the U.S.-backed Shah five years later, the Iranian leadership has continued to publicly support such a goal ever since. In addition to declaring no interest in acquiring an atomic bomb of its own, Iranian leaders have long condemned nuclear weapons in general. Indeed, Pope Francis' own words are often nearly identical to those of Iranian officials, past and present.

Noting this similarity, I put this thing together to test your knowledge of both papal and Iranian rhetoric. Enjoy.



September 25, 2015 - Addressing the United Nations General Assembly today, Pope Francis reiterated his stance on the Iran deal and nuclear weapons.

The deal, he said, "is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy," adding, "I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved."

Beyond this, "There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons," the pope said.


Monday, September 21, 2015

CNN Gets IAEA Parchin Visit Dead Wrong

CNN reported today on what they apparently thought was really big news.
The United Nations' nuclear watchdog [sic*] has carried out its first-ever inspection of Iran's Parchin military site -- with Iranian help, the agency announced Monday.
According to CNN, the investment in diplomacy with Iran is already paying dividends, with Iran finally allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access and investigate a long-suspect military site to assess whether experiments related to nuclear weapon detonation were carried out there over a decade ago. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano personally visited the site, namely the building that has been specifically identified as containing a detonation chamber, on Sunday and found nothing there. Environmental samples were taken at the site the following day.

To announce this latest development, the CNN headline blared: "IAEA inspects Iran's Parchin military site for first time."

In truth - something that is apparently unimportant to reporters Frederik Pleitgen and Brian Walker and their editors - Sunday's official visit and Monday's collection of environmental samples actually marked the third and fourth times IAEA officials were allowed access to the Parchin facility, not the first.

Two Previous Inspections in 2005 Yielded No Evidence of Weapons Work

When allegations first arose about Parchin, which is a non-nuclear military site and therefore not legally subject to international safeguards or inspections, then-IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the press in September 2004, "We do not have any indication that this site has any nuclear-related activities. However, we will continue to investigate this and other sites, we'll continue to have a dialogue with Iran."

As part of those investigations and requests made by the IAEA, Iran voluntarily granted inspectors managed access to Parchin twice in 2005, once in January and again in November of that year. Because these inspections were conducted outside the framework of the Iran's legal obligations under both the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards, they were described as "transparency visit[s]."

Parchin is sprawling facility with hundreds of buildings and test sites. According to the IAEA, Iran permitted inspectors to visit any single area of their choosing at the vast complex "in order to provide assurance regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at that site." Of the four areas identified by the IAEA as being of interest based on satellite surveillance imagery and third-party data and intelligence, inspectors selected one and requested to visit five buildings in that sector.

Olli Heinonen, a leading Iran hawk and nuclear alarmist who was the IAEA's deputy-general of safeguards at the time and led those inspections, told Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson precisely how the visit went down:
The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available... When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building.
In its review of the visit, the IAEA reported:
The Agency was given free access to those buildings and their surroundings and was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual use equipment or materials in the locations visited.
After requesting additional access to another part of Parchin, inspectors were allowed back in November 2005. The IAEA "was given access to the buildings requested within the area of interest at Parchin," an agency report noted, "in the course of which environmental samples were taken. The Agency did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited." A final report on the second visit concluded that "the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations."

Paragraph 32 of the IAEA's February 27, 2006 safeguards report on the Iranian nuclear program

Entrenching False Narratives of Iranian Intransigence

The latest round of inspections at Parchin are a welcome step in the normalization of Iran's nuclear dossier within the IAEA and the resolution of the manufactured nuclear impasse in general. CNN's lack of historical knowledge about Iran's past confidence-building measures and voluntary actions to dispel allegations of nuclear weapons work, however, serves only to further entrench the false narrative that Iran has always had something to hide.

A prime example of how this narrative permeates media coverage was seen in on July 14 when The New York Times' William Broad described Parchin as "an Iranian military base from which inspectors have recently been barred," adding, "It is the site of suspected experimentation into nuclear arms."

And when the samples taken at Parchin today are analyzed and it is revealed that no nuclear material is present at the site in question, will the phony intel that started all this nonsense be condemned and the case finally closed?

No, of course not.


* The media constantly - and erroneously - describes the IAEA as the "United Nation's nuclear watchdog." It is not. It works in collaboration with the UN, but is not a part of it. It is, as noted by international law expert Dan Joyner, "not a general policeman of international nuclear energy law." Joyner adds:
The agency is an independent international organization, which was created through a treaty -- an instrument of international law. As such, it has only the international legal personality and the limited mandate of legal authority, which are provided both in the agency's statute and in its bilateral Safeguards Agreements with member states.
With regard to Iran, the IAEA's mandate is simple and clear. Outlined in its 1974 safeguards agreement, the agency is to apply safeguards on all of Iran's fissile material "for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

In dozens of reports over the past decade, the IAEA has repeatedly and consistently confirmed that Iran has never diverted nuclear material to military purposes.

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October 2, 2015 - Investigative reporter Gareth Porter and nuclear expert Yousaf Butt have each published excellent articles on the IAEA's embarrassing wild goose chase at Parchin. They are both well worth your time.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Who Fact-Checks The Fact-Checkers?:
PolitiFact and Ted Cruz Both Get the Iran Deal Wrong

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz and the Tampa Bay Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website PolitiFact were at each others' throats last week over recent comments Cruz has made about the nuclear deal - officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - reached this past July between Iran and six world powers.

The main reason for the spat is simple: Ted Cruz lies a lot.

In response to a particularly blustery claim made by the Texas Senator at a hilariously insane rally opposing the nuclear accord, which restricts Iran's nuclear energy and uranium enrichment programs - reaffirming their purely peaceful nature - in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions, PolitiFact decided to investigate whether Cruz was telling the truth. (Spoiler: he wasn't, and rarely does.)

At the rally, and afterward on Twitter, Cruz declared that the JCPOA "will facilitate and accelerate the nation of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons." Even for a demagogic blowhard like Cruz, this is a ridiculous thing to say. Beyond the fact that we've heard for over three decades that the advent of an Iranian nuke is just around the corner - only a few years, maybe two years, a year and half, 12 months, six weeks away! - and these estimates have never come close to fruition, nor have they ever been based upon a single shred of credible evidence, the enhanced monitoring and inspections implemented under the new deal effectively prevent any hypothetical Iranian move toward weaponizing its program for at least a decade, probably far longer. And that's if Iran does the thing it's never ever done: decide to build a nuclear weapon, and to do so at exactly the time when its program is under the most intensive scrutiny of any nation's program in history. The claim is absurd on its face.

Needless to say, it wasn't too difficult for PolitiFact to judge this statement false.

But PolitiFact's own understanding of the parameters of the Iran deal itself was surprisingly rife with errors, something that absolutely shouldn't happen in a fact-checking article. The details, relayed by the website's editors Louis Jacobson and W. Gardner Selby, were rendered this way:
Specifically, the deal requires Iran to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons, as well as most of the centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium. In addition, Iran agrees to only enrich uranium to a level unsuitable for weapons for 15 years, and to cease production of plutonium, the other element that can be used to build a bomb. Known nuclear sites would be monitored for 15 years to confirm compliance, and inspectors would have the ability to enter undeclared sites suspected of nuclear use, though with possible delays of up to 24 days.
PolitiFact gets a bunch wrong here.

"Highly enriched uranium"

First, the deal does not require "Iran to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons." Why not? Because Iran doesn't have any highly enriched uranium to give up.

Jacobson and Selby appear to have confused - or conflated - low enriched uranium with highly enriched uranium.

This is no small matter and, unfortunately, is a common mistake made by commentators, politicians, journalists, and pundits who should all know better. The fact is Iran has never enriched uranium above 19.75 percent U-235, which is defined by the IAEA itself as "low enriched uranium." This is quite uncontroversial - no one, from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the U.S. intelligence community to the Israeli Mossad to non-proliferation experts, has ever claimed that Iran has produced a stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Iran has only ever produced low enriched uranium (LEU) - to levels of under 5 percent and under 20 percent - useful only as reactor fuel or medical isotopes, respectively, not bombs (which require enrichment levels of over 90 percent).

Furthermore, the IAEA has confirmed that, "since 20 January 2014, Iran has not produced UF6 enriched above 5% U-235 and all of its stock of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 has been further processed through downblending or conversion." Additionally, as the agency has long confirmed, "All of the enrichment related activities at Iran’s declared facilities are under Agency safeguards, and all of the nuclear material, installed cascades, and feed and withdrawal stations at those facilities are subject to Agency containment and surveillance."

What the JCPOA actually does, in this regard, is limit Iranian enrichment of uranium to no more than 3.67 percent U-235 LEU and, as the Arms Control Association notes, eliminates roughly 97 percent of Iran's current LEU stockpile, capping it at a mere 300kg for 15 years.

"Production of plutonium"

PolitiFact also erroneously claims that, under the deal, Iran must "cease production of plutonium," which makes no sense considering Iran has never produced plutonium. As I noted earlier this month, "Before it can be stockpiled, plutonium must first be extracted and reprocessed from the spent uranium fuel of an operational nuclear reactor. Iran has never done this and doesn't even have a reprocessing plant. Iran has literally never extracted plutonium from a reactor core, let alone stockpiled it..."

In short, Iran can't "cease" doing something it's not - and never has been - doing.


PolitiFact's explanation of inspection parameters under the JCPOA is also disingenuous. By claiming that Iran's "[k]nown nuclear sites would be monitored for 15 years to confirm compliance," PolitiFact is implying that Iran's nuclear infrastructure is not already under safeguards and constant monitoring, which it is - and has been for years, if not decades. Iran's nuclear facilities have long been subject to the most intrusive and consistent inspection regime in the world.

The deal only strengthens this regime, allowing constant and immediate access to all declared nuclear sites and also to non-nuclear sites like centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and uranium mines and mills, which, as nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis has pointed out, "are not safeguarded anywhere else in the world." This enhanced and unique access will last, in many cases, as long as 20-25 years.

PolitiFact's language also suggests inspections of nuclear sites will cease after a decade and a half. This is totally wrong. In fact, all of Iran's declared nuclear sites will remain under IAEA safeguards and surveillance in perpetuity, as mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which Iran has been a party since its advent in 1968.

Even PolitiFact's understanding of "possible delays of up to 24 days" before "undeclared sites" are accessed by inspectors is dubious, as this is the absolute maximum amount of time that access to a potentially suspect facility could be delayed through a process agreed to by all seven international parties (eight, if you include the European Union) to the JCPOA.

In truth, under the deal, the IAEA's request to visit a suspect site "triggers a 24-day clock under which Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to come to an agreement on access. If not, the Joint Commission, created by the JCPOA, has seven days to make a determination on access, and if at least five of the eight members vote to allow the IAEA to investigate, Iran has three days to comply," explains the Arms Control Association. At that point, the very first time this review protocol is tested to this extent, there's a good chance the process of re-implementing sanctions on Iran would begin, rendering the tenets of the JCPOA inoperable and signaling the imminent, if not immediate, collapse of the agreement altogether.

Who Fact-Checks the Fact-Checkers?

PolitiFact has rightly taken Ted Cruz to task for his false claims.

[In a petulant retort to being fact-checked, Cruz published even more lies in The National Review, declaring, among other things, that Iran cheated on a previous nuclear accord (it didn't), that Iran is allowed "in certain circumstances" to "inspect itself, and report back on the 'results'" (it's not, not even close), and that the deal enables "Iran to finish their ongoing ICBM research and develop a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead across the Atlantic to America" (which is, simply, asinine).]

But in its own explanation of the Iran deal, PolitiFact repeats a number of baseless canards that have often been used by anti-diplomacy Iran hawks and deal-supporting liberal interventionists alike to mislead the public about the Iranian nuclear program and its capabilities.

For a "fact-checking journalism website aimed at bringing you the truth in politics," PolitiFact should make sure to check itself before it, well, you know.


A version of this article was crossposted by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) on September 25, 2015.



October 27, 2015 - Due to this post, PolitiFact issued a correction. But it didn't go far enough. Check out my update here.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Talkin' the Iran Deal on BRIC TV's "Straight Up"

The good folks over at Brooklyn's own BRIC TV kindly invited me on their reporter roundtable show Straight Up to discuss the Iran deal - the facts, falsehoods, details, media coverage, political posturing - along with prolific journalist Ali Gharib and host Jarrett Murphy of City Limits.

Much ground was covered, I quoted Donald Trump, and we all a drank a number of pints of beer.

And afterwards, this happened right outside.

The conversation is being rolled out via a few teaser clips; the entire hour-long show will be posted eventually. Here's the first (warning: I talk a lot):

And here's the second:



September 17, 2015 - And here's the third:



September 18, 2015 - And here's a little drinking game we played. Spoiler: I crushed it.



September 19, 2015 - And, finally, here's the entire conversation, including a whole bunch of extra stuff that didn't make it into the shorter clips above. Check it out:


Anne-Marie Slaughter Admits She Was Wrong About Iran, Doesn't Care Enough to Issue Correction

Anne-Marie Slaughter

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post addressing the myriad falsehoods and inaccuracies proffered by influential think tank head and former Obama official Anne-Marie Slaughter in an August 20 op-ed she wrote for USA Today about the multilateral nuclear agreement reached between Iran and six world powers this summer in Vienna.

During the course of her column, Slaughter gets some very basic facts about the Iranian nuclear program, the history of negotiations, and the deal itself totally wrong. For instance, she claims the deal "completely dismantles its nuclear supply chain." It doesn't. She calls the Iranian nuclear program - the one fully safeguarded and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency - "illegal." It is not.

One of the most flagrant and repeated errors in Slaughter's piece is that Iran currently has in its possession "stockpiled plutonium and highly enriched uranium." Again, this isn't even remotely true as Iran has never produced nor stockpiled any plutonium or highly enriched uranium. Ever.
Alas, despite my (and others) efforts to force this to Slaughter's attention and get her to respond, she didn't.

Until Sunday.

First came the obvious "I'm busy" stuff, but soon thereafter came the full admission of error about her "stockpiled plutonium and highly enriched uranium" claim. Apparently, explains Slaughter in lieu of actually owning up to being dead wrong, she was "writing 2 quickly" and "didn't mean 2 say stockpiles of plutonium."

How someone accidentally writes and publishes something they claim to know isn't true is beyond me. But, amazingly, what she tweeted after that is even more damning.
According to Ms. Slaughter, who has been a professor and department chair at elite academic institutions, served as a top aide to the Secretary of State, and now runs a major D.C. think tank, "writing for [a] mass audience" means ignoring the truth, or what she refers to for some reason as omitting "nuance."

First off, facts aren't nuance. They are facts. Iran not having stockpiles of weapons-grade fissile material is not some bit of inane minutiae when one has decided to argue that Iran is a potential nuclear-armed threat. No, falsely claiming the opposite is an integral part of your overall argument and it is erroneous information upon which less informed or interested readers (yes, the "mass audience") will base their own judgments on the matter. If your facts are wrong, and you're supposed to be the "expert," then how are we to expect the non-experts to know what the truth is?

Which brings us to the second thing: Anne-Marie Slaughter clearly isn't concerned about the truth. She's concerned about making her case in support of the Iran deal, and still sounding tough on the Iranian bogeyman, regardless of what she needs to pretend is true to do it.

This is exactly why most people are so poorly-informed about Iran's nuclear program and why faulty assumptions lead, not only to warmongering and threats, but to bad policy.
But, hey, for Anne-Marie Slaughter, she only had so much room to "frame [the] core debate," which clearly doesn't leave any space for telling the truth about things. I mean, writing "low enriched uranium" takes up far more space than "plutonium and highly enriched uranium," right?

Slaughter only addressed that one mistake, however, ignoring the other obvious errors published in her op-ed.

When asked whether she would contact USA Today and ask them to issue a correction on her article about the "stockpiles" claim, Slaughter demured:
Besides the fact that September 15 is not "over a month" after August 20, Slaughter is apparently uninterested in setting the record straight and believes her commentary, published in USA Today, has an extremely short shelf-life of relevance. Why correct my mistakes when the damage is already done?

Such is the emphasis on truth and the importance of honesty in the mainstream commentariat. After all, if the "mass audience" doesn't know they're being lied to by Very Important People like Anne-Marie Slaughter, why would she let them find out? I mean, hey, she's got a kid to bring to college and a book to promote!

Reflecting on how tragically wrong she and other supporters of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq were about what they claimed they knew was true, Slaughter wrote in 2013, "We can only hope we have gained a lesson in humility."

Sadly enough, that lesson, for Slaughter herself, appears yet unlearned.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Claws Out: One Pro-Israel Think Tanker's Feeble Fury

WINEP's Patrick Clawson (left), and his doppelgänger "Johnny Cab" from Total Recall (1990)

Something unexpected and hilarious happened yesterday during Dick Cheney's predictably bellicose and apocalyptic speech against the Iran deal at the American Enterprise Institute.

When a Code Pink protester named Michaela Anang interrupted the speech, raising a banner reading, "Cheney / Wrong on Iraq / Wrong on Iran," and calling the war criminal at the podium, well, a "war criminal," someone in the audience freaked the fuck out.

While Anang was surrounded by event security escorting her out of the room, a bespectacled man wearing a suit and tie appeared and grabbed her banner, attempting to tear it out of her hands in a fit of flailing fury. He was not successful.

Here's how Huffington Post's Nick Wing described what followed:
The man tried and tried some more, but he couldn't quite wrest the sign from the woman's grasp. He jerked with his entire body. He yanked the banner back and forth like a dog playing tug of war. He even leaned back in an apparent attempt to use his body weight to his advantage. All to no avail.
After pulling with all his middle-aged might (for her part, Anang looked like she exerted no energy whatsoever during this entire ordeal), the banner slipped from the man's grasp, and he slumped backwards into an empty chair off the aisle - drained, defeated and denied.

The video of the struggle is priceless:

So who was this guy - this irate, ineffectual, noodle-armed muppet?

It was none other than Patrick Clawson, research director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a fanatically pro-Israel think tank spun off from AIPAC. Clawson has long been a staple of the Beltway's Iran hawk mafia.

In 2006, Clawson told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, "So long as Iran has an Islamic Republic, it will have a nuclear weapons program, at least clandestinely. The key issue therefore is: How long will the present Iranian regime last?"

He has frequently called for supporting regime change in Iran, just as he supports industrial sabotage of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, cyber attacks, and the extrajudicial murder of Iranian nuclear scientists. "That's what the Israelis would do, what we would expect them to do. They would kill Iranian scientists," he said in 2009, adding, "It would be implausible to call off all covert ops."

Clawson also has the distinction of publicly suggesting Israel conduct a false flag operation to drag the United States into a war with Iran as an alternative to diplomacy. "I frankly think that crisis initiation is really tough. And it's very hard for me to see how the United States … uh … [the] president can get us to war with Iran," Clawson said during a 2012 WINEP forum entitled, "How to Build U.S.-Israeli Coordination on Preventing an Iranian Nuclear Breakout."

"So, if in fact the Iranians aren't going to compromise, it would be best if somebody else started the war," Clawson concluded.

For Clawson, it surely would have been best if he had asked somebody else to wrestle a young woman's banner from her fingers.

Journalists Jim Lobe and Ali Gharib have written a phenomenal analysis of the incident, positing that, metaphorically, it pretty much sums up the Israel lobby's embarrassing failure to kill the Iran deal, despite its expenditure of untold energy and capital. Clawson embodies the lobby's crazed hysteria as much as its feeble weakness.

Now enjoy this, over and over and over and over again. It never gets old. Or unfunny.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

How Recent Media Scoops Busted Two Major Myths About Iran

Iran's negotiating team (l-r): Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, Special Assistant to the President Hossein Fereydoun, and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. (Associated Press)

Two media stories published last month ventured behind the scenes of the successful negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and lifting sanctions, revealing the great efforts made by both the Iranian government and the Obama administration to reach a deal. Embedded within these scoops, however, are (at least) two vital bits of information that haven't garnered much attention, despite the fact that they effectively bust a number of the most popular myths about the Iranian nuclear program and the effect of international sanctions.

Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons

On August 1, an exclusive published by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) revealed details of an off-the-record conversation about the Iran deal between Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who served as the country's lead nuclear negotiator for the past two years, and IRIB directors that occurred in late July. The scoop was quickly retracted and removed from the IRIB website, but not before other outlets had already picked up the news.

IranWire published excerpts from the story on August 3, showing Araghchi defending the Iran deal and offering a rare glimpse at the closed-door comments of a top Iranian official about Iran's nuclear program and government policymaking.

But, considering the erroneous assumption common in political statements and press reports that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb, one comment in particular sticks out. Addressing the optics of successful diplomacy with the United States, referred to as "the enemy," and its partners, Araghchi said:
"The main demand of the other side was to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons … We had no problem with that, and granted it to the enemy …meaning that we provided trust, trust that we will not be moving towards the bomb. We granted this to the other side in two ways, by accepting certain limitations and certain supervisions. The other side got what it wanted and can say that they prevented an Iranian atomic bomb."
By being able to declare that the deal has "prevented an Iranian atomic bomb," Araghchi explains here that the Americans achieved their primary goal. But for Iran, he notes, this wasn't a concession at all - in fact, it was already longstanding Iranian policy.

"We gave up an atomic bomb, a bomb which we did not want and considered forbidden," Araghchi said.

Remember, this was not a statement delivered publicly and expected to be reported. This is the private commentary of a senior Iranian official affirming the government position that nuclear weapons are not only strategically and geopolitically obsolete, but also ethically abhorrent and religiously prohibited.

Sanctions did not 'bring Iran to the negotiating table'

While we often hear that "sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table," it is widely acknowledged that United Nations sanctions were ineffective in forcing the Iranian leadership to abandon its legal nuclear development and enrichment program. Following the announcement of the 2013 interim agreement between Iran and six world powers, John Cassidy wrote in The New Yorker:
Even the nonpartisan Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation expressed some doubts about the economic blockade, saying its effects, which have included a fall in oil production, a collapse in the value of the Iranian currency, and a big jump in inflation, were mainly hitting ordinary Iranians rather than the country’s leaders.
“Paradoxically, economic woes have allowed the government to take greater control over the economy, and to use patronage, favors, and other methods to shield regime allies from the pain of sanctions,” the report said. “On the other hand, those hit hardest by the sanctions seem to be precisely those who otherwise would support a more moderate government in Iran, and who look favorably on the U.S.”
It wasn't until the European Union joined the U.S. oil embargo on Iran and froze assets related to Iran's central bank in 2012 that sanctions supporters say they saw real results. A Council on Foreign Relations sanctions primer notes, "A year prior to its 2012 oil embargo, the EU was the largest importer of Iranian oil, averaging 600,000 barrels per day, according to the CRS."

Cassidy credited the EU sanctions with turning the tide on Iran's willingness to talk and accept concessions on its program, writing that "once the European Union, Iran's largest trading partner, agreed to join the United States in ratcheting up the pressure, they proved effective in pretty short order." He doubled-down on this conclusion this past week.

But the truth is that Iran was already at the negotiating table, and had been on and off for a decade already. Its proposals have consistently offered a severe reduction in enrichment capacity, enhanced monitoring and inspections, and the opening up of its program to international partnership and investment. All Iran asked for before it accepted these stringent terms was the acknowledgement of its inalienable right to a peaceful nuclear program, and full domestic control of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment.

"Enrichment is our fundamental right, but we can negotiate to what degree, dimension, and other things," said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on November 8, 2013 in Geneva, during the initial talks that led to the interim agreement later that month.

Beyond this, a blockbuster report by Al-Monitor's Laura Rozen, published on August 11, reveals that Iran was already open to and engaged in direct talks with the United States before some of the most "effective" sanctions were in place. The scoop details the four-year, behind-the-scenes journey of Iranian and American officials to reach the historic July 2015 accord.

Rozen reports:
While nuclear negotiations only made rapid progress after Rouhani came into office in August 2013 and tapped Mohammad Javad Zarif as his foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator, it is perhaps less well known that Iran's hard-line Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei authorized secret talks with the United States on the nuclear issue two years earlier, in 2011, at the urging of Oman's Sultan Qaboos as well as [former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar] Salehi.
At the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still in office, thus debunking the myth that diplomacy was only explored once Rouhani was elected two years later in June 2013. Moreover, Rozen's fascinating scoop points out that, even after the imposition of the harshest sanctions by both the United States and European Union, the Iranians weren't simply begging for relief by relinquishing their rights; rather, the process was slow and deliberate, even stubbornly so. The idea that sanctions "forced" Iran to finally relent to engage diplomatically, let alone capitulate or concede anything, is a fallacy.

Rozen writes that "even after Khamenei consented to direct US-Iran negotiations on the nuclear issue in 2011, it took almost a year before a preparatory meeting occurred, mostly due to divisions within the Iranian side," according to Salehi. Following one July 2012 meeting, Rozen adds, "preparatory discussions subsequently paused for several months for the 2012 US presidential elections."

Early into Obama's second term, "a more significant, three-day US-Iran meeting was held in Oman," reports Rozen. "At the March 2013 Oman meeting, then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns conveyed a message from Obama that he would be prepared to accept a limited domestic enrichment program in Iran as part of an otherwise acceptable final Iran nuclear deal, Al-Monitor reported in July 2014."

Still, the Iranian diplomats were "in a 'fact-finding' listening mode and apparently not prepared to enter into serious negotiations at that point, former US officials said... Another meeting was apparently scheduled for May, but the Iranians backed out, in anticipation of their June presidential elections."

The Oman channel was about seeing if the United States and Iran could reach an understanding on the enrichment issue to advance a nuclear accord, Philip Gordon, the former top Obama White House Middle East official, said.
"I think the basic question in Oman was to explore whether, if the US and others accepted some limited and highly constrained and monitored degree of Iranian enrichment, Iran would address our other concerns to ensure paths to a weapon [are] blocked," Gordon told Al-Monitor Aug. 10. "And in the end, that's how it turned out."
For ten years, United States routinely prevented progress in diplomacy to end the nuclear stalemate, refusing to acknowledge Iran's national rights and holding firm to the position that Iran not be allowed to enrich uranium domestically. Obama's realization that this was a failed policy, not the "crippling sanctions," is what led to successful negotiations.

This was always the issue, and until it was resolved - in Iran's favor - diplomacy was never going to progress.

Reflecting on the nuclear impasse in The Telegraph in January 2012, Peter Jenkins, formerly Britain's representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reminded readers of the proposal Iranian negotiators put in front of its European counterparts in March 2005. The provisions of the deal called for stringent monitoring of and strict limitations on its nuclear program, including restricted, domestic uranium enrichment. Jenkins observes:
With hindsight, that offer should have been snapped up. It wasn't, because our objective was to put a stop to all enrichment in Iran. That has remained the West's aim ever since, despite countless Iranian reminders that they are unwilling to be treated as a second-class party to the NPT – with fewer rights than other signatories – and despite all the evidence that the Iranian character is more inclined to defiance than buckling under pressure.
Despite Jenkins' revelation and his clear warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past, it took the Obama administration another 14 months to drop "zero enrichment" as the central tent of its belligerent and ineffectual Iran policy.

The ineffectiveness of sanctions was long known. As far back as December 2004, George W. Bush admitted that the United States didn't "have much leverage with the Iranians right now" and was "relying upon others, because we've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran."

Meanwhile, Iran's insistence on the affirmation of its rights has never wavered.

"In the nuclear issue, Iran only wants the world to recognize its right to enrichment, which is Iran's natural right," Iranian leader Ali Khamenei said during a March 2013 speech in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. "If the Americans truly want to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran, the solution is easy," he declared, "They should acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes."

In September 2013, soon after his inauguration, President Rouhani insisted, "We will never forgo our…intrinsic right to a peaceful nuclear program, including uranium enrichment," adding that "no amount of pressure, arm-twisting, threats and sanctions will cause Iran to abandon this right." The same month, Foreign Minister Zarif told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that Iran's "right to enrich is non-negotiable."

Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, told Christiane Amanpour in October 2013, "If the Americans and other countries say that Iran should not develop a nuclear bomb or should not move towards that, then we can clearly show and prove that. We have no such intention. So it can be resolved in a very short period of time," adding, "The important thing is that Iran insists on having access to the peaceful nuclear technology and Iran is not going to change its mind. They claim that Iran may have the intention to move towards developing a nuclear weapon but we can assure them that we are not moving towards that direction," Larijani said.

Indeed, after the interim agreement was reached in November 2013 and as talks continued apace, former IAEA director-general and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei noted, "It took the West a decade to realize that bare-knuckle competition for regional influence was not a viable strategy for dealing with Iran. The recent interim agreement, facilitated by [Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani's low-key diplomacy, could have been reached 10 years ago."

Still not convinced?

President Obama himself even admitted the limitations of sanctions and the futility of trying to force total Iranian capitulation and subjugation. Earlier this year, on April 2, 2015, Obama delivered an update on continuing nuclear negotiations in a speech from the White House Rose Garden. "Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so," Obama finally confessed. "That's not how the world works. And that's not what history shows us. Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions."

So, think we can we finally put these myths to rest once and for all?

Yeah, me neither.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Talkin' the Iran Deal on CounterSpin Radio

As the fight for Congressional approval of the Iran deal heats ups and misinformed rhetoric about the agreement and Iran's nuclear program abound, I had the pleasure of speaking with Janine Jackson on CounterSpin, the weekly radio show of the vital media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

You can listen to it here, or below. My interview begins around the 9:40 mark and runs about nine minutes.

The program also features an excellent discussion about the media and Native Americans with journalist Mark Trahant, professor at the University of North Dakota.



September 11, 2015 - FAIR has posted a (lightly-edited) transcript of my CounterSpin chat with Janine Jackson. Here it is:

'This Deal Affirms the Peaceful Nature of the Iranian Nuclear Program'

Janine Jackson interviewed Nima Shirazi on recent coverage of the Iran deal for the September 4 CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: A recent story in Politico reported that the pending pact with Iran over its nuclear program was figuring into Senate electoral campaigns as “Republicans are attacking Democrats backing the deal as soft on national defense.” Two days earlier, aPolitico story explained, as the headline says, “The Ultimate Argument in Favor of the Iran Deal: The Agreement Would Make It Easier to Bomb Iran,” noting that this is a selling point offered by White House officials.

The two pieces aren’t at essential odds: Both assume Iran to be bellicose and threatening, and consider the main criterion for any deal to be how bellicose and threatening it allows the US to be. That’s been the climate of much of the conversation on Iran, conversation also marked by serious misinformation on a factual level. Now it looks as though Republicans don’t have the votes to kill the pact itself, but there’s little chance that the misinformation will disappear on that account.

Joining us to discuss Iran and the media is Nima Shirazi; he writes the political blog Wide Asleep in America and co-edits Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazineMuftah. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Nima Shirazi.

Nima Shirazi: Thanks so much for having me.

JJ: Even if both proponents and opponents of the pack based their arguments on the idea that Iran is developing, or wants to develop nuclear weapons, despite the absence of evidence for that and Iran’s repeated denials, can we see the deal’s passage as suggesting, anyway, that there is some response the US can have toward a country it perceives and portrays as an enemy other than dropping bombs on it? I know that’s a low bar, but here we are.

NS: Yes indeed, that is a very low bar. I do think that the deal itself is a very positive thing. As you mentioned, of course, the rhetoric has not yet changed: the concept that Iran is hellbent on building a nuclear weapon, which has been disproven time and again, the concept that Iran is a perennial cheater and that all it’s doing is now biding its time for another two and a half decades before it finally races towards a nuclear bomb–which it says is completely strategically, morally, ethically and politically unviable.

I think that we are still seeing so much of the propaganda, which has permeated this discussion for so long, still taking hold. Some of it is divided kind of bipartisanly right now, with deal opponents insisting that Iran will get this massive windfall of money as a signing bonus, even though it’s actually Iran’s money that has effectively been held in escrow, or that Iran will be able to inspect itself, which is absurd, or that there will be a 24-day waiting period mandatory before any inspectors visit any nuclear sites. All of these are completely bogus.

JJ: Yes, when something like a New York Times editorial says in favor of the pact–they said, if negotiations fail, “Iran is likely to embark on an even more aggressive search for a nuclear weapon.” It’s like a mobius strip of misinformation there: You can’t have a more aggressive searching when there is no evidence of any searching, and then how is the absence of a deal going to force Iran to do the thing that it is not doing and has said it doesn’t want to do?

Well, talking about the current situation where we’re reading that the deal is veto proof, media are now talking about how it can be improved. Already I see John Kerry out there saying, “Don’t worry, we’re going to do this, but we will also give Israel more missiles.” Again, it’s seeming like maybe it’s not exactly peace that’s being argued for here.

NS: No, its kind of interesting, proponents of the deal have used that Obama and Kerry quote basically that don’t worry, the deal makes the world and Israel safer, and yet were still going to give Israel these other weapons, just in case. It kind of undermines their concept about how safe the deal makes Israel, but behind all of that is that Iran is actually no threat to Israel. Israel, which has an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, and constantly threatens to bomb Iran, is actually much more of an existential threat to Iran that Iran could ever pose to Israel.

JJ: It also seems that we have to accept as a premise–to even get into the debate, you have to accept that somehow the US, along with Israel, that the US is somehow not the main driver of violence in the region, but is a force of stability.

NS: Precisely. We constantly hear, in nearly every single article that is written about this deal and its potential consequences, that Iran is a bad actor in the region and that it has nefarious activities, that it is doing all of these bad, bad things, and never mentions that we, the United States itself has wrought more destruction over that area of the world than anyone else, ever, and that Iran, which actually is a country in that region, has been prevented from playing a role that may be stabilizing, simply because it is seen as being in an adversarial position to US and Israeli interests.

JJ: Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner noted recently that there are going to be disagreements on implementation of this deal, assuming it goes through; that’s why there is a section on dispute resolution, and that won’t mean the plan itself is broken. The implication being any hiccups or problems with inspections going forward will be put forth as evidence that the deal was a mistake. What are you thinking we should be looking for going forward in terms of media representation of this situation?

NS: I think that we’re simply going to see the continuation of what we’ve seen for the past few decades, unfortunately. We are going to see allegations that Iran is cheating, and that Iran is doing everything they can to push the legal limits of this deal in order to prepare themselves, down the line, to break out in some nuclear fashion and destroy the world. The good news is that, at the base of this, the deal is here to stay, regardless of what Marco Rubio said about the deal could only last or will only last through the term of this president, seeing that the next president is not beholden to it.

That will not be the case. This deal is here to stay. It has many other partners that are already beginning to implement the terms of the agreement, and hopefully the Iranian nuclear dossier will become normalized within the IAEA so that even more of these allegations will kind of fail to stir up all of these threats, all of these kind of hysterical claims.

But at the base of this, what the deal does is it affirms the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program and it also effectively removes any threat of military action: With this deal in place, no one is going to bomb Iran.

JJ: David Swanson at World Beyond War wrote that one of the lessons is that we saw that there is never an urgent need for war, that wars are often begun with great urgency, not because there is no other option, but because delay might allow another option to emerge. This would seem, if anything, a case that we can use to say, it’s not that stark a choice, at least there is another road to try.

NS: It’s true, diplomacy is always an option; concerted diplomatic efforts can reap real rewards. I think we’ve seen that here. I think that everyone also needs to realize that the main concessions here, almost all of the concessions here, have been made by Iran. The US has given up nothing in this deal. It has all of its own rights intact. All that has happened is it will then stop imposing punitive sanctions on Iran for something that Iran was never doing in the first place.