Opinion

Reality check: Iran is not a nuclear threat

Forget the neoconservative hype. The facts show Iran is not and has not been a nuclear threat to either the United States or Israel.

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Politicians, lobbyists, and propagandists have spent nearly two decades pushing the lie that Iran poses a nuclear weapons threat to the United States and Israel. After a brief respite in the intensity of the wolf cries over the past two years, the neoconservative movement has decided to relaunch the “Must Bomb Iran” brand.

The fact that Iran is not and has not been a nuclear threat to either nation is rendered irrelevant by a narrative of universal “concern” about its nuclear program.

US media distortions

In mid-August, for example, after The New York Times quite uncharacteristically ran a piece diminishing the supposed danger of Iranian nukes, the story was misrepresented in newspapers and on TV stations across the country in the most frightening terms. As MSNBC’s news reader put it that afternoon: “Intelligence sources say Iran is only one year away from a nuclear bomb!”

On August 13, on Fox News, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton implicitly urged Israel to attack Iran’s new light-water reactor at Bushehr before it began “functioning,” the implication being that the reactor represented some sort of dire threat. But the facts are not on Mr. Bolton’s side. The Bushehr reactor is not useful for producing weapons-grade plutonium, and the Russians have a deal to keep all the waste themselves.

On September 6, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a new paper on the implementation of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement which reported that the agency has “continued to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran to any military or other special purpose.”

Yet despite the IAEA report and clear assertions to the contrary, news articles that followed were dishonest to the extreme, interpreting this clean bill of health as just another wisp of smoke indicating nuclear fire in a horrifying near-future.

A Washington Post article published the very same day led the way with the aggressive and misleading headlineUN Report: Iran stockpiling nuclear materials,” “shorthanding” the facts right out of the narrative. The facts are that Iran’s terrifying nuclear “stockpile” is a small amount of uranium enriched to industrial grade levels for use in its domestic energy and medical isotope programs, all of it “safeguarded” by the IAEA.

More sensational claims

If the smokescreen wasn’t thick enough, late last week a group of Marxist holy warrior exiles called the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, working with the very same neoconservatives who sponsored Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress – which manufactured so much of the propaganda that convinced the American people to support the invasion of that country – accused the Iranian government of building a secret nuclear enrichment facility buried deep in tunnels near Qazvin.

Headlines once again blared in total negligence and without verification that here indeed was, an official told Fox News, proof that Iran has a “hidden, secret nuclear weapons program.’” TV news anchors on every channel furiously mopped sweat from their brows, hearts-a-tremor. When will the forces of good rise to stop this evil?!

Yet even US officials quickly admitted that they’ve known about these tunnels for years. “[T]here’s no reason at this point to think it’s nuclear,” one US official said – a quote that appeared in Fox’s article, but only after five paragraphs of breathless allegations. All day long, top-of-the-hour news updates on TV and radio let the false impression stand.

IAEA inspectors have had open access to the gas conversion facility at Isfahan, the enrichment facility at Natanz, and the new lightwater reactor at Bushehr, as well as the secondary enrichment facility under construction at Qom.

An ignored clean bill of health

The September 6 IAEA report confirming for the zillionth time the non-diversion of nuclear material should be the last word on the subject until the next time they say the same thing: Iran, a long-time signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not in violation of its Safeguards Agreement.

So what’s all the hubbub about Iran’s “nuclear defiance” and “danger”?

The IAEA’s latest report does note that Iran has “not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” Indeed, the agency’s frequent mentions of Iran’s “lack of full cooperation” is a big reason why US media reports portray Iran in ominous terms.

But here, too, US media frequently miss the point. Never mind that 118 nations around the world have signed a statement criticizing the IAEA’s “peaceful activities” conclusion as a departure from standard verification language. More broadly, Iran’s “lack of full cooperation” by itself is an outcome of Western bullying and propaganda.

Real reason for lack of cooperation

The US and the UN, acting upon no legitimate authority whatsoever, have demanded that Iran submit to an Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement, which would allow endless inspections on issues not directly related to Iran’s use of nuclear materials. They have also demanded that Iran cease all uranium enrichment and submit to an endless regime of questions based mostly on the “alleged studies” documents, which several sources have said are forgeries posing as a pilfered laptop of a dead Iranian nuclear scientist. [Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated an implication of the Additional Protocol.]

These separate, UN Security Council-mandated investigations have even demanded blueprints for Shahab 3 missiles – a subject far removed from hexafluoride gas or any legitimate IAEA function. In 2003, Iran voluntarily agreed to the extra burden of the unratified Additional Protocol during “good faith negotiations” with the so-called “E-3,” Britain, France, and Germany, acting on behalf of the US. When those negotiations broke down, Iran withdrew in 2006.

With these details left out of the discussion, the impression is left that Iran is refusing to abide by international law, when in fact, it is completely within its NPT obligations.

An outrageous standard

Meanwhile, Washington continues to apply to Iran the outrageous standard it used in the run-up to the Iraq war: an unfriendly nation must “prove” it doesn’t have dangerous weapons or a secret program to make them – or potentially face military action.

“Proving a negative” is, to say the least, a difficult obligation to meet: You say you haven’t read Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover? Prove it!

The bottom line is that Iran is still within its unalienable rights to peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT and the Safeguards Agreement – a point even Tehran’s fiercest critics (grudgingly) acknowledge. The only issues it is defying are the illegitimate sanctions and demands of the US and UN, which themselves defy logic and sense.

Journalists’ ethical obligation

It is far past time for the members of the American media to get their act together and begin asking serious follow-up questions of the politicians, “experts,” and lobbyists they interview on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program.

Many of these same journalists still have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis on their hands from the months they spent continuously and uncritically parroting the lies, half-truths, and distortions of agenda-driven Iraqi dissidents and their neocon champions who pushed us into the Iraq war.

Perhaps this is their shot at redemption.

Scott Horton is host of Antiwar Radio on the Liberty Radio Network and assistant editor at Antiwar.com.

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