As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Roll Out The Aluminum Tubes

In the days after the successful talks between Western powers and Iran, which yielded more in one day than eight years of threats by the Cheney Administration, those who profit off of belligerence and confrontation with the world had clearly circled the wagons and planted their stories in the nation's newspapers. If people got the idea that Iran was moving toward cooperation, why, what would the foreign policy "establishment" that thrives off of conflict and military deployment do? Where would the next enemy be found? It's very bad for business.

So out came the links. Helene Cooper typed up the fears of anonymous officials wondering if the agreements in the first round of talks, including a deal where Iran would ship its enriched uranium to Russia to ensure that it would be used for peaceful purposes, were just a tactic by the Iranians to "buy time." Practically the same article popped up in the LA Times, as "experts and government officials" questioned whether the timeline for IAEA inspectors to visit the recently revealed facility at Qom represented another stall tactic. Amid this suspicion, neocon emeritus Elliott Abrams surmised that Iranians would not oppose a military attack on their own country, because there's nothing dissidents enjoy more than bombs raining on their heads (the reformers don't want sanctions either, it will hurt ordinary Iranians rather than the ruling regime). And today, this bombshell is splashed across the New York Times:

Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.

The report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations.

But the report’s conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States.

Two years ago, American intelligence agencies published a detailed report concluding that Tehran halted its efforts to design a nuclear weapon in 2003. But in recent months, Britain has joined France, Germany and Israel in disputing that conclusion, saying the work has been resumed.

A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.

I don't know why this is news. Three years ago, under pressure from House Republicans, the Bush Administration posted documents revealing how to build a nuclear bomb on the Internet. Even this article presumes that Iran received the nuclear knowledge from "external sources," most likely Pakistan's godfather of the atomic bomb A. Q. Khan. The NYT wrote about Khan giving nuclear secrets to Iran in March 2005, and in that story, it was floated that Khan and Iran discussed trading knowledge in 1987. (Meanwhile, Khan has been set free by our ally Pakistan.) This is an old, old story, resurrected just when diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict are moving forward.

In reality, Iran has agreed to allow the UN to visit the facility at Qom, have set a date of October 25 for that inspection, and the IAEA has described a "shift to cooperation" in the Iranian stance. The President's national security advisor has called the efforts at cooperation significant and said things are moving in the right direction.

Just as a successful universal health care system would doom the Republicans, a successful negotiation on nonproliferation would doom the neocon vision that you cannot talk to adversaries and only force is advisable and just. So they plant stories with unproven allegations about secret uranium stocks. They even had to go to Canada to drop one rumor:

Iran has tried to acquire materials for a nuclear weapon in Canada, according to a top official in Canada's Border Services Agency.

George Webb, head of the agency's Counter Proliferation Section, says customs officers have seized centrifuge parts (centrifuges are used to enrich uranium) and electronic components for bombs and guidance systems.

Webb made the claims in a story published Thursday in Canada's National Post [...]

The article, however, offers nothing to corroborate Webb's claims and reports them without even a hint of skepticism, except to say that "The devices can be used in peaceful nuclear plants but are also required to produce nuclear weapons" and to note that there have been few arrests and no convictions in connection with Webb's far-reaching claims.

But skepticism is merited. The government claims and breathless media reporting – without adequate evidence – that Iran is a grave and looming threat is reminiscent of the same claims and media coverage in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as several commentators have pointed out. Remember Saddam Hussein's horde of yellowcake uranium?

These allegations aren't coming from the Office of The Vice President this time, at least not yet. But they are out there, the neocons are desperate to hold off anything resembling peace, and sadly the media isn't always appropriately skeptical of the claims. Arm yourself with the facts. Juan Cole's list of things you know about Iran that are not true is a good start.

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