Benjamin Netanyahu draws his "red line" for Iran's uranium enrichment at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2012.

Benjamin Netanyahu draws his “red line” for Iran’s uranium enrichment at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2012.

Bob Schieffer on CBS Face the Nation interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opening by asserting as fact that there is a “continued push for nuclear weapons in Iran”, even though there is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program. Never mind the fact that the U.S.’s own intelligence community has repeatedly assessed that Iran is not building nuclear weapons.

Such is the propagandistic nature of the mainstream U.S. media. Never mind the facts.

In the interview, Netanyahu said that Iran is getting “closer and closer” to the “red line” he infamously drew last September before the U.N. General Assembly. What was that “red line”? Weapons grade, or 90% enriched uranium. Here’s how the New York Times reported this (emphasis added):

Speaking via satellite on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Mr. Netanyahu expressed concern that Iran was pursuing “alternate routes” to a nuclear weapons capability, including a plutonium bomb, even while stopping just short of the specific enriched-uranium levels he had set in a speech at the United Nations last year as a “red line” for military action.

So Iran is “stopping just short” of enriching uranium to 90%. So, what, is Iran enriching to 80%? 70%? What is “just short of” 90% enrichment? What level of enrichment has Iran actually been doing? The answer is: 20%. That’s right. That is what the Times means by saying Iran is “stopping just short” of Netanyahu’s “red line”. Iran has been enriching uranium to 20% for legitimate civilian purposes.

Here’s how the Israeli daily Haaretz reported the same information:

While saying that the Iranians “took heed of the ‘red line’ that I sketched out at the UN” they were nonetheless getting “closer and closer” to nuclear capacity. They have accumulated 190 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium of the 250 kilos needed to manufacture a bomb – and they are building “alternative route” thorough [sic] plutonium, Netanyahu added.

That’s a little better, but still disingenuous. While rightly pointing out that Iran has enriched only to 20%, it mistakenly suggests that Iran could manufacture a bomb from 250 kilos of 20% enriched uranium. But Iran could have 250,000 kilos of 20% enriched uranium and still be incapable of manufacturing a nuclear weapon. The amount of bombs Iran could produce with that amount of 20% enriched uranium is precisely zero, for the simple reason that to build a bomb requires weapons-grade uranium, Netanyahu’s “red line” of 90% enrichment.

Oh, and all of Iran’s 20% enriched uranium is under the constant monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog agency charged with ensuring nations’ compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a member. So while Iran could hypothetically enrich it further to weapons-grade uranium, this would require it to kick out the IAEA inspectors.

All this talk about an “alternative route” through plutonium is just more hypothetical nonsense. The reference is to Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor, which “when operational, could produce plutonium if the spent uranium fuel was reprocessed”, as the Guardian reported in May. It added that “plutonium can be used to make smaller, even more powerful nuclear warheads than weapons-grade uranium. To make it, however, Iran would need to build a reprocessing plant and there is so far no sign of that” (emphasis added).

So, yes, hypothetically, Iran could decide in the future to have a nuclear weapons program, and it could decide to kick out the IAEA and enrich uranium to 90%, or it could decide to try to use plutonium instead to make a bomb.

Of course, there’s no sign that Iran is doing any of this. But you would never know that watching CBS or reading America’s “newspaper of record”.


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