A recent editorial in the Washington Post suggests that the Obama administration should threaten Iran with war if it doesn’t accept U.S. ultimatums. It begins:
AS THE YEAR begins, the Obama administration and its diplomatic partners are expecting the renewal of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, after a six-month hiatus. But there is scant indication that a breakthrough is in store. The international coalition, composed of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, intends to offer a slightly modified version of the deal Tehran rejected last June, with the faint hope that the pain of economic sanctions might have caused Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to soften. But there is no public sign of that: In fact, Iran has been slow to agree to a new meeting and, according to the New York Times, did not respond to a post-election feeler by the Obama administration on direct, bilateral talks.
So the Post suggests that there is no sign that Iran is interested in seriously renewing talks, and no progress towards any “breakthrough”, citing as evidence a New York Times article. But click that link. Notice the Times headline:
Iran’s Slowing of Enrichment Efforts May Show It Wants a Deal, Analysts Say
Hmm… Some excerpts from that article:
…Iran’s leaders are showing signs that they may be more interested in a deal to end the nuclear standoff with the West.
…“I think it is hard to understand what Iran was doing if not sending a deliberate signal, signaling some cautiousness,” said Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst who is now at the Arms Control Association. “I think it is reasonable to see the diversion as a negotiating signal, and a note of moderation.”
Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that “the sanctions policy that the United States has pursued over the past decade is beginning to bear fruit.”
…“Tehran almost certainly hopes the diversion will be read in Western capitals as a sign of its willingness to reach a deal,” said Paul R. Pillar, a former C.I.A. analyst who is now at Georgetown University.
So right from the get-go, we see the Post cherry-picking information to make it’s case. Here’s what they chose to focus on:
But White House, State Department and Pentagon officials all cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about Iran’s ultimate intentions.
A new session of talks involving Iran and six major powers, including the United States, is expected next year, and American officials say they still cannot determine whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is ready to strike a deal.
A quiet feeler seeking direct talks with Iran that the administration put out after President Obama’s re-election last month resulted in “no real response,” another senior official said, adding: “It wasn’t that they said yes or no. They said nothing.”
There is almost no information there. An administration officials claims Iran didn’t respond to a “quiet feeler”. That’s it. What was this “quiet feeler”? Perhaps the explanation is that it was too quiet for Iran to hear. Maybe the Obama administration should speak up next time. Notice, also, that it isn’t that Iran isn’t interested in talks; in fact, talks are already scheduled for this year (the article is from December). The Post editorial continues:
The coalition proposal, portrayed as a confidence-building step, would address the most dangerous part of Iran’s program by requiring a freeze in the enrichment of uranium to a level of 20 percent, which is a short step from bomb-grade, and by shutting down the underground facility known as Fordow, where that enrichment takes place. Iran would also be required to ship its current stockpile of medium-enriched uranium out of the country. In return, it would receive certain economic concessions, like spare airplane parts, and perhaps a partial relaxation of some sanctions.
In other words, the U.S. is issuing Iran an ultimatum to surrender its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. And even if Iran were to do so, the U.S. might be willing to allow Iran to buy items that have nothing to do with its nuclear program, like spare airplane parts, needed to maintain planes so they don’t crash and kill innocent civilians, but it would still continue to punish it with sanctions.
And what about this uranium being enriched to “a short step from bomb-grade” at 20%? What is bomb-grade? About 90%. What they mean is that technologically, an ability to enrich to 20% puts one near the technological capability to enrich to bomb-grade. But what they don’t tell readers is that all of this uranium is under the monitoring and supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has continued to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material to any military aspect of its nuclear program (which is to say, there is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and its enrichment to date has been for peaceful purposes).
And what about the purpose of this medium-enriched (20%) uranium? It is for Tehran’s research reactor, which, the above Times article also conveniently notes for us,
was supplied by the United States during the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to produce isotopes for medical purposes….
That’s right, the U.S. is demanding that Iran cease enriching uranium for a reactor provided to Iran by the U.S. back when the brutal regime of the Shah was ruling the country (the Shah having been reinstalled after a CIA coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh).
The Post editorial continues:
As it made clear in June, however, Iran expects far more from any agreement. It wants the sanctions lifted entirely and for the Security Council to recognize its “right” to enrich uranium, despite multiple resolutions ordering it to cease.
Can you imagine? They want not just “a partial relaxation of some sanctions”, but for them to be “lifted entirely“? How unreasonable! And how about this claim of theirs that they have a “‘right’ to enrich uranium”? The insolence!
Except here’s what the NPT has to say about that:
Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes….
And, yes, the development, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes includes the enrichment process, including enriching to 20% to produce isotopes for medical purposes. So why does the Post put the word “right” in quotation marks, implying that Iran doesn’t really have such a right under the NPT? Well, obviously, we aren’t supposed to understand that Iran actually does have an “inalienable right” to enrich uranium, according to the NPT to which it is a party and under which the IAEA is actively monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.
Most of Iran’s “demands”, the Post opines, “are rightly unacceptable to the Obama administration.” So it is “unacceptable” that the U.S. recognize that Iran has an “inalienable right” under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It is “unacceptable” that the U.S. cease punishing Iran with sanctions for not surrendering this right were Iran to agree to cease enrichment. No, Iran must continue to be punished even after agreeing to the U.S.’s ultimatum. Iran must surrender its rights and give in to U.S. demands, and then, after it has done that, the U.S. will continue to punish the country anyways.
And notice the framework adopted: for Iran to insist that the U.S. recognize its rights is a “demand”; but for the U.S. to insist that Iran surrender its rights is not a “demand”. It is merely a “proposal”; a “proposal” backed by what the Obama administration has bragged are “crippling sanctions” that punish the civilian population for the crime of having a government the U.S. doesn’t much like, and further backed by the threat of war (which we’ll return to momentarily).
The editorial continues its fearmongering:
At the same time, the United States — and more so Israel — cannot easily wait many more months for a deal. If Iran continues to enrich uranium to 20 percent at its present rate, it may acquire enough to quickly make a bomb by the middle of this year, potentially giving it the “breakout capacity” that both President Obama and the Israeli government have vowed to prevent. Tehran would have crossed that line last fall had it not diverted a large part of its stockpile to fabricate fuel for a research reactor.
The Post again declines to inform its readers that Iran’s stockpile is under the watchful eye of the IAEA and that if it wanted to divert uranium for enrichment to weapons grade to build a bomb (the number of nuclear bombs that can be made from any sized stockpile of 20% enriched uranium is precisely zero), it would have to first kick out inspectors.
The Post concludes that if Iran does not accept the terms of negotiations demanded by the U.S.,
Mr. Obama should consider making Iran a comprehensive offer that would permanently restrict its uranium enrichment and provide for intensive international monitoring in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. That would have the advantage of confronting the regime with a stark choice — and making clear whether a diplomatic solution exists.
The Post, in other words, is not-so-subtly endorsing a U.S. policy of threatening to punish Iran with military attack if it refuses to accept U.S. ultimatums. After all, what other options remain apart from war if no “diplomatic solution” exists? When we are reminded that “all options are on the table”, everyone understands that the “options” are diplomacy or war. And by “diplomacy”, of course, again, the U.S. means punishing civilians with “crippling sanctions” and issuing ultimatums implicitly backed by the further threat of military force.