Friday, August 4, 2017

The Return of the Media's Zombie Narrative About Iran's Nuclear Program

Democracy may die in darkness, but the Washington Post continues to murder truth when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program.

In an August 2, 2017 article about a recent bill, passed nearly unanimously in Congress and begrudgingly signed into law, that pointlessly imposes more sanctions on Russia and two other countries that don't toe the American line, the Washington Post described the measure, in part, as punishment "against North Korea and Iran for those countries' nuclear weapons programs."

(Screenshot via @thekarami)

Not only does this description misunderstand the contents of the bill itself, which actually targets totally legal conventional (read: non-nuclear) weapons and research programs, but it brazenly states as implicit fact that Iran has a "nuclear weapons program."

Similarly, a Washington Post analysis on the merits of pursuing regime change (in wholesale violation of international law or the will of the target's population, which are never mentioned), published just three days earlier on July 31, repeated a number of common tropes about Iran. Not least among these talking points, offered uncritically by two associate professors of political science, is that "[r]egime change in Tehran is thus the surest route to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program."

Leaving aside the imperial audacity of such a statement, that the Washington Post would publish this sentence is shocking. Why?

Because Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.

In fact, it never has.

This is neither controversial nor a matter of nuance. It is plain and simple fact. Yet this point continues to be ignored in the service of the undying political and media narrative in this country that Iran is a malevolent, if not genocidal, monster that threatens peace and stability around the world and whose every nefarious move (which is every move, of course) must be opposed and resisted by the noble United States, simultaneously the world's policeman and Good Samaritan.

The Facts

Since the signing of the multilateral nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers in July 2015, the IAEA has routinely confirmed the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. This assessment has been repeatedly affirmed by the United States government.

But this is nothing new.

International intelligence assessments have consistently affirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but rather a nuclear energy program with domestic uranium enrichment facilities. All of these facilities are legal and protected under international law; all of Iran's nuclear fissile material is under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes has ever been detected in the history of the Iranian program.

These facts have been consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said that there is "no concrete proof" Iran's nuclear program "has ever had" a military component.

Despite longstanding Iranian policy that has held, unequivocally, that nuclear weapons are not only strategically and geopolitically obsolete, but also ethically abhorrent and religiously prohibited, hysteria over an imaginary Iranian nuclear weapons program has been exploited for more than than three decades to justify sanctions, threats, assassinations, sabotage, surveillance, and other covert actions against Iran in the hopes of overthrowing the government that came to power after ousting the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979.

Even claims that Iran had a dedicated nuclear weapons program before 2002 or 2003 are dubious at best, and rely on evidence that is most likely completely fabricated. The authenticity of these allegations has been repeatedly questioned by the IAEA, as well as the United States. As former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei noted in his 2011 memoir, Age of Deception, U.S. intelligence officials "did not share the supposed evidence that had led them to confirm the existence of a past Iranian nuclear [weapons] program, other than to refer to the same unverified set of allegations about weaponization studies that had already been discussed with the Agency."

In fact, even the IAEA's "Final Assessment" of Iran's alleged past weapons work, published in December 2015 fell flat. The agency concluded that "a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003," and that "these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities." Moreover, the IAEA reaffirmed - as it has for the past decade - that there were "no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material" from Iran's nuclear energy program at any point ever to a possible parallel military effort.

After reviewing these findings, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter insisted, "There hasn't been a more meaningless conclusion of such an over-hyped issue since the CIA assessed that Iraq had 'dozens of WMD program-related activities' in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of that country." Ritter even added that the supposed "range of activities relevant" to a nuclear weapon "are far less threatening than the ominous description provided by the IAEA would lead one to believe. In every case, the IAEA was either forced to concede that their information was baseless (allegations concerning the manufacture of "uranium metal," for instance), or else could be explained through 'alternative applications' involving Iranian commercial and military activities unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program."

Professor Dan Joyner, a nonproliferation and international law expert, noted that the IAEA assessment wholly vindicates Iran against allegations that its past activities violated its legal obligations. The IAEA has "now given its opinion that Iran has not violated NPT Article II through any of the alleged PMD activities," Joyner wrote, "because none of the assessed activities can be said to rise to the prohibited level of the manufacture or other acquisition of a nuclear explosive device." Also, because there was never any diversion of nuclear material from peaceful to military uses, the IAEA had effectively "determined that none of these activities constituted a violation of Iran’s safeguards obligations. As Article 1 of Iran's comprehensive safeguards agreement makes explicit, the IAEA's safeguards activities in Iran are implemented 'for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.'"

The Never-Ending Problem

The offending "nuclear weapons program" phrase in the Washington Post's August 2 sanctions article was caught immediately by journalist Arash Karami.

This is more than a matter of sloppy writing or editing, however, as it demonstrates the pervasive nature of a nuclear narrative that holds, despite all evidence, that Iran is, was, and always will be pursuing nuclear bombs with which to threaten American interests and dominance.

Indeed, the Washington Post has a particularly troubling history of pushing this line. Back in December 2011, Patrick B. Pexton, then the 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 - from the New York Times, NPR, and The Guardian - have concurred with Pexton's determination.

Nevertheless, the same damaging language has been used repeatedly by these very same outlets since. Rather than fix their reporting and editorial standards to adhere more closely to the truth, papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times have instead permanently eliminated the position of Ombudsman and Public Editor altogether.

As the U.S. government has again put Iran in its crosshairs, the zombie narratives about Iran's nonexistent nuclear weapons program will continue to be resurrected by the dutiful mainstream media. It remains incumbent on readers to challenge such falsehoods as forcefully as possible before our brains all turn to mush.



August 6, 2017 - The Washington Post has posted a correction to its August 2 article and removed the word "nuclear" from the originally published sentence:

Kudos to Arash Karami for bringing this to their attention.

Unfortunately, the Post's July 31 article remains uncorrected.

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Considering political and media propaganda about Iran's nuclear program is continually recycled, I too have reused parts of my own previous writing in this post. I mean, you can only write the same stuff in different ways so many times.


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