Understanding Media Propaganda About Recent Talks Over Iran’s Nuclear Program

by | Nov 17, 2013


There are a couple points worth noting about recent reporting on the recent talks between the U.S. and its Western allies and Iran over its nuclear program.

1) The first is that the media effectively accepts the U.S. government’s framework that Iran’s rights derive from Washington, D.C. Here’s the New York Times this week:

As Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from other world powers sought to work out an interim agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian government’s insistence on formal recognition of its “right” to enrich uranium emerged as a major obstacle, diplomats said Sunday…. Iran has asserted repeatedly that it has the right to enrich uranium, a necessary step in producing nuclear fuel both for power plants and, at a much higher level, for weapons…. The Obama administration is prepared to allow Iran to enrich uranium to the low level of 3.5 percent as part of an interim agreement, as long as Iran agreed to other constraints on its nuclear activity. But the administration is not prepared to acknowledge at this point that Iran has a “right” to enrich…. “The United States does not believe there is an inherent right to enrichment, and we have said that repeatedly to Iran,” a senior administration official said before the latest round of talks in Geneva.

The Times uncritically parrots the government position, leaving readers with the impression that Iran’s claim lacks any basis. Naturally, there’s not one word in the article about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a party. How can this be? How can the Times report about the issue of Iran’s right to enrich uranium and the U.S.’s rejection of that right without presenting readers with a discussion of what the NPT has to say about it? There’s only one explanation, which is that the Times is, as usual, like most of the rest of the mainstream media, playing the role of propaganda outlet to manufacture consent for U.S. foreign policy. Here’s what the NPT says about it:

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….

Needless to say, that includes enrichment of non-weapons grade uranium. But the U.S. isn’t trying to engage Iran on the basis of the NPT. Instead, it is trying to issue orders to Iran to surrender its rights recognized under the treaty. Under Washington’s framework, uranium enrichment isn’t a right other countries have. Instead, while the U.S. considers this a right it has, other countries do not have an equal right to do so, but may only do so with the U.S.’s permission. Hence the statement about the Obama administration being “prepared to allow” Iran to enrich only to 3.5%. That is to say, Iran must surrender its right, guaranteed under the NPT, to enrich to 20% for peaceful purposes.

A Times editorial repeats:

One primary obstacle involves Iran’s insistence that it has a right to enrich uranium (which can be used for nuclear power plants or weapons), something Washington is not ready to concede.

Once again, no mention that the NPT in fact guarantees Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Then the editors opine:

The best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is through a negotiated deal that limits uranium enrichment….

What does that mean? Well, there are already limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment under the NPT. Iran is forbidden under the treaty from using nuclear technology for military purposes. Iran has never enriched and is not enriching uranium to weapons-grade. So the Times is here simply adopting the U.S. government’s standard and parroting its policy of the need to force Iran to surrender its treaty-protected rights.

Another Times piece this week contains the following propaganda:

Iran’s stockpile of its most worrisome category of uranium — enriched to nearly 20 percent, close to bomb grade — increased only modestly. Since the last quarterly accounting, Iran has added roughly 10 kilograms, or about 22 pounds, of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity to its stockpile, bringing its total of the medium-enriched material to roughly 196 kilograms, or about 432 pounds. Iran is turning most of that uranium into fuel for reactors, which diminishes its threat as a bomb fuel.

The report also found that Iran had performed only minor work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak, a facility that has raised alarm because it could eventually produce plutonium, giving Iran a second source of bomb fuel.

First, 20% isn’t “close to bomb grade”, since weapons-grade is 90% enriched uranium. What the Times means is that for Iran to have the technological capability to enrich to 20% means it is “close” to having the capability to enriching to 90% if it wanted to. But they don’t put it that way, because that wouldn’t serve the propaganda purpose. Second, uranium converted into fuel plates for reactors can’t be used to build a bomb. Third, if Iran wanted to use plutonium to make a nuclear weapon, it would have to build a whole other production facility, which it couldn’t likely do without detection. Even if Iranian leaders ever did decide that they want to make a bomb, they would have to first kick out the IAEA inspectors who are in the country monitoring their program, as per Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency under the NPT.

The propaganda continues in the op-ed pages, where one may read Thomas L. Friedman declaring:

It goes without saying that the only near-term deal with Iran worth partially lifting sanctions for would be a deal that freezes all the key components of Iran’s nuclear weapons development program, and the only deal worth lifting all sanctions for is one that verifiably restricts Iran’s ability to breakout and build a nuclear bomb.

It goes without saying? No, it does not. First of all, this statement is based on the false premise that Iran has a “nuclear weapons development program”. Friedman must know this is false. It is not plausible that he does not know, for example, that the U.S. intelligence community has continued to assess that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, or that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog organization that ensures compliance with the NPT, has continued to monitor and verify that it has not diverted any nuclear materials to any military aspect of its nuclear program.

That he knows this is implicitly confirmed when he refers to a “breakout” ability (he repeats further down the page that Iran must relinquish “the ability to breakout with a nuclear weapon”), which is to say that Iran doesn’t currently actually have a weapons program, but it is approaching achieving the technological know-how and capability to produce a nuclear weapon if it decided to. Friedman, like his editors, is simply parroting the U.S. government position that Iran must surrender its “inalienable right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”. If Iran continues to enrich uranium under any agreement approved by the U.S., it will not be because Iran has an “inalienable right” to do so, as per the NPT, but because the U.S. is “prepared to allow” it.

This is the U.S.’s framework for negotiations. This is why the talks will fail. International law is simply irrelevant. Rights are irrelevant. The law comes from the United States government, and the rest of the world may only exercise privileges bestowed upon them by the Masters of the Universe in Washington, D.C.

2) The second point to note about recent reporting is how meaninglessly the word “diplomacy” is being used. The full spectrum of opinion on the subject ranges from support for the Obama administration’s efforts to bully Iran into surrendering its rights to criticisms of Obama for not doing even more to punish the Iranians into submission. That’s it. That’s the entire spectrum of debate about the matter.

So within that framework for debate, we have the Times reporting:

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. pressed senators on Wednesday to give the Obama administration some breathing room to reach an accord with Iran to freeze its nuclear programs, warning that a new round of sanctions could mean war instead of diplomacy.

This creates a false portrait of critics in Congress as hawks and members of the administration as doves. More sanctions would mean a rejection of “diplomacy”, implying that what the administration is doing is actually “diplomacy”. Another Times piece repeats this nonsense:

[T]he president made a strong case for diplomacy, trying to quell an effort in Congress to ramp up sanctions against Iran rather than modestly ease them, in return for a six-month halt in the progress of the nuclear program.

Obama made a strong case for “diplomacy”? In the third-to-last paragraph of that first article, one may read:

Treasury officials also briefed senators on Wednesday, assuring them that any sanctions relief offered in an interim accord to freeze nuclear development would be dwarfed by the amount of revenue Iran would continue to lose under the sanctions still in place. They noted that Iran had turned down the initial offer, and they told lawmakers that “no one is suggesting an open-ended delay for new sanctions,” according to a Treasury official

That is, all the administration has offered to Iran is to ever-so-slightly ease its policy of collectively punishing its civilian population for the crime of their government of disobeying Washington in return for an agreement to cease legal uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. This proposal, naturally, has nothing to do with concern for the welfare of the Iranian people:

Administration officials also argue that the imposition of new sanctions by Congress might prompt the United States’ allies to conclude that Washington, not Tehran, is responsible for any strains in the talks. That could backfire, State Department officials insist, by undermining international support for new sanctions.

That is, the administration shares the goal of even more severely punishing Iran for its disobedience, but wishes to go through the charade of pretending to engage Iran in talks to be able to say that it tried “diplomacy” and that didn’t work, and so it is necessary to use the stick. Getting backing for an escalation of the U.S.’s policy of collective punishment shouldn’t be risked by appearing completely unwilling to engage in so-called “diplomacy”, euphemistically used by the media to refer to the U.S.’s policy of using the threat of force and coercion to get Iran to behave and follow orders.

Reprinted with permission from Jeremy Hammond.

Flickr/United Nations – Geneva


  • Jeremy R. Hammond

    Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal. In 2009, he received the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his coverage of the US s support for Israel s 22-day full-scale military assault on the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead (Dec. 27, 2008 Jan. 18, 2009). He is the author of The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict and Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian Economics in the Financial Crisis. Find him on the web at JeremyRHammond.com.

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