Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why Chuck Schumer (et al) Bit the Hook

The study group Just Foreign Policy says the New York Times has "gone Judy Miller" again, a reference to the discredited NYT reporter who shilled for the invasion of Iraq. JFP's complaint centers on the paper's stenographic reportage of the U.S. government line regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, without a scintilla of responsible journalistic skepticism or supplemental reporting.

In my opinion the Times "went Miller" a long time ago in its reporting on Iran's nuclear program, and continues to do so in articles like the recent story by William Broad and David Sanger under the headline "Iran Is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid." For several years, these two reporters and others at the Times have been, at the very least, writing about Iran's nuclear program in loaded language, reeking of pro-hawk bias.  At worst they seem to have been weaving into their stories tainted information, colored by Mossad, concocted by Likud, conveyed by AIPEC and intended to influence world and American public opinion against Iran.

The Times's  public editor, an independent monitor of the paper's ethics, reportedly is looking into the Syria business.  Let us here and now look once again at the Iran reporting, because the Times and other complicit journalists like George Jann of the Associated Press have created a climate wherein, when a reader sees the phrase "Iran's nuclear program," he or she thinks "Iran's nuclear weapons program."  There is no credible evidence of a  nuclear weapons program in Iran.

At least as far back as 2010, the Times has used quarterly reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to introduce hints, innuendo or outright falsehoods.  On March 1, 2010, an independent online analyst wrote, "The Times imputes to the IAEA report statements, declarations and conclusions that just are not there." The very same statement can accurately  be made about the latest Broad-Sanger piece.

The headline writer obviously intends one to infer "weapons bid." The lede paragraph reports what the IAEA reports -- that Iran continues to enrich uranium -- but immediately invites the reader to doubt that it's doing so for peaceful purposes.  It goes downhill from there.

Two essential points must be made here: First. Iran, thanks to technology originally given to it by the United States during the reign of the Shah, has been enriching uranium for years.  As new technology has become available, Iran has acquired some of it.  The enrichment levels it produces are about 5% -- suitable for a wide range of medical procedures and treatments -- and exactly 19.7%, suitable to produce fuel for nuclear power plants like the 105 now operating in the United States. According to the the American Federation of Scientists, 90% enrichment is the minimum threshhold for "weapons grade" material.  Broad and Sanger, in their latest article, describe Iran's uranium as being "close to" weapons grade.  That is like saying $19.70 is "close to" $100.  Second point: As a signatory to the international accord on atomic energy, Iran was legally entitled to enrich uranium up to the maximum 20% level for peaceful (power, medicine, etc.) use. The Islamic republic insists that it retains that  right.  Israel and its western allies, particularly the United States, the U.K. and France, say, "No, we took that right away from you because you broke the rules."  But the issue has never been adjudicated in anything resembling an international body of law.  A diplomatic solution has been sought through negotiations between Iran and  the so-called P5+1 -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.   No new talks were scheduled when the April session ended with little progress.  Broad and Sanger characterized the talks as "collapsed."  An American government official said, however, “There may not have been a breakthrough, but there also was not a breakdown." Surely the difference between these characterizations cannot be lost on such experienced diplomatic reporters.  Sober analysts in such diverse countries as Japan and Canada have suggested the obvious: the talks are in suspended animation until Iran elects a new president in a little more than two weeks from now.

Once they've written circles around the fact that there's very little news in the latest IAEA report, Broad and Sanger go off on a tangent that seems as transparent as the bizarre Rube Goldberg devices the AP's Jann has fallen for.  I've reread the IAEA text half a dozen times and find nothing in it to substantiate their claim that it bares a new three-part strategy for Iran to get A-weapons before Israel and the U.S. can stop them by going to war.  Their strategy hypothesis reads like a "what-if" memo written by a Mossad intelligence analyst.

It concludes: "The third element of the strategy involves speeding ahead with another potential route to a bomb: producing plutonium. The energy agency’s report indicated that Iran was making significant progress at its Arak complex, where it has built a heavy-water facility and is expected to have a reactor running by the end of next year."

Nowhere -- repeat, nowhere -- in the IAEA document does the word "plutonium" appear.  Nor does its U.N. chemical ID symbol (Pu) or any of its variations appear in the text. Its mention of the Arak heavy water plant notes that its inspectors were there in August of last year, but since have had to rely on satellite images to monitor its activity.

Perhaps the Times raised eyebrows at those parts of the IAEF report that mentioned the production or transfer to other facilities of small quantities of UO2 or U3O8.  While these could be used to produce plutonium, they are also consistent in their reprocessed state with efforts to produce high-efficiency fuel for a new Iranian nuclear power plant nearing completion.

Just as one must learn to walk before one runs, so also most of the verified Iranian nuclear activities could be stepping stones to starting work on nuclear weapons. My neighbor just bought shoes for his two-year-old toddler. Ergo, the kid plans to enter the Olympic Games.

No wonder Sen. Chuck Schumer thinks Iran already has enough weapons-grade material to arm a nuclear warhead, and has broadcast that lie to his constituency.  He thinks he read it in his hometown paper. The one that used to be respectable.