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Iran's Nuclear Two-Step By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 18, 2003

THE RECENT NATIONAL NEWS HEADLINE that the International Atomic Energy Agency had found “no evidence” Iran had used its illegal nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons says much more about the IAEA’s incompetence than it does about the Islamic Republic’s benevolence. The choice of the headline’s focus, however, speaks volumes about media bias.

 “No Evidence”….


Although the IAEA revealed that Iran had nurtured a heretofore unknown 18-year-old covert nuclear program, McPaper (USA Today) chose to lead with the “No Evidence” headline, as did CNN, Yahoo, the Financial Times and most newspapers around the country. So, too, did most cable news organizations. Indeed, the headline was all most Americans saw of the story, as it whizzed below the news anchor’s desk, surrounded by blockbusters like, “Artists Pay Tribute to Johnny Cash” and “Hilton Sex Tape Scandal Heats Up.”


The AP story reproduced in USA Today also fails to mention several key components of the report, not the least of which is Iran’s production of low-enriched uranium (LEUs) and plutonium, the chief material used in nuclear weapons.


Not all headlines were devoid of the IAEA report’s actual findings. The New York Times reported in ho-hum fashion that Iran produced a “small amount of plutonium.” The NYT, along with the Associated Press and MSNBC, also emphasized that Iran’s new honesty and “openness” constituted a “setback” for the bloodthirsty Bush Administration. Even the far-Left Mother Jones was more balanced in its approach to the report’s true dimensions.


The “no evidence” statement was by far the most perfunctory, legalistic, qualified and misleading statement in a 29-page report filled with explosive revelations about Iran’s nuclear quest (of which, more below). Why, then, did the “mainstream” media outlets focus on that portion of the report? Because it would discredit the Bush Administration. The “neoconservatives” advising the President had long claimed Tehran purposed to create a nuclear weapons program, and here was evidence that Bush was “lying again.” With a rapidly improving economy, Iraq is becoming the Democrats’ only line of attack against Bush in ’04. Thus, the media have done their leftist party’s bidding by denying any Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found in Iraq or Iran, showing the world that the POTUS has been “proven” wrong by UN inspectors in a second Axis of Evil nation. 


… Except This Evidence


Any competent investigation of the IAEA report would have noted its disturbing picture of Iran’s advanced nuclear program, and asked whether the report even includes all the regime’s progress in obtaining nukes. As the report reveals, Iran’s nuclear program, which the world had believed to be only a year or two old, in fact stretches back more than a generation – nearly as far as Iraq’s infamous Osirak reactor. Iran (which purchased its reactor at Bushehr from Russia) has concealed this program for nearly two decades by lying, dissembling and deceiving UN inspectors. Over the years, Iran has created small amounts of low-enriched uranium and plutonium and has attempted to enrich uranium with lasers for 12 years. Iran’s mullah-ocracy has also dismantled the plant where these laser experiments had been conducted, before IAEA agents could inspect the grounds.


The media’s ridiculous paraphrase of the IAEA report notwithstanding, a few news organizations did a commendable job of reporting this blockbuster exposé. First among these is the Washington Post – by no means a conservative media outlet – which reported on its front page, “Iran Had Secret Nuclear Plan, UN Agency Says.” All of the foregoing facts came directly from its multi-page article of November 10.


The Post seemingly alone reported the IAEA’s reaction to Tehran: far from merely declaring there is “no evidence” that Iran has produced nuclear weapons, the UN watchdog has declared Iran has played a deadly nuclear shell game with inspectors for the better part of two decades, breaking its international agreements in the process. The IAEA report noted, “Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with cooperation being limited and reactive…changing and contradictory.” Feeling “serious concerns,” one former inspector openly pondered whether the Islamist regime was merely “guessing what it thinks the IAEA already knows.” The report concluded that “Iran has failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


No Other Logical Conclusion

Outside experts have been equally outspoken. “It’s quite clear now that Iran has engaged in willful and systematic deception over more than a decade,” said Michael Levi of the liberal Brookings Institution. Even more to the point, Thomas B. Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council fumed, “It's dumbfounding that the IAEA, after saying that Iran for 18 years had a secret effort to enrich uranium and separate plutonium, would turn around and say there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. If that's not evidence, I don't know what is.”

Indeed, the very existence of a nuclear program ought to sound alarm bells. Why would Iran, sitting upon an ocean of petroleum, build a nuclear plant for energy, its purported use? The paradox set some of those “neoconservatives” in the White House asking what a repressive Islamist nation – which is a state sponsor of terrorism, has a history of anti-American violence and is developing advanced Shehab-3 missiles in need of payloads – would want with enriched uranium and plutonium. There can be only one serious answer, yet the media continue to indulge their Pollyanna optimism, not because they actually believe in the goodness of Iran, but because they believe the “lying” Bush Administration is the greater threat to world peace.

The Inept IAEA

IF THE REPORTING IS BAD, the situation is far worse. Despite IAEA’s transparent frustration and desire for “particularly robust” verification programs, Iran represents a problem the IAEA has proven it cannot solve. Gabriel Schoenfeld notes the agency’s tremendous shortcomings in the current issue of Commentary Magazine (“The Terror Ahead,” November 2003). For one, the IAEA can only inspect sites the nation being inspected declares under the agency’s “safeguard”; any facility not so declared is off-limits. These need not be declared until 180 days before radioactive material enters the site itself. A few hundred inspectors must oversee 1,000 worldwide reactors under its “safeguard,” many in stable, First World democracies unlikely to use nuclear weapons nor pass them on to a third party (terrorists).

These conditions make it difficult for the agency to find nuclear programs in nations cooperating with its inspectors. Hidden nuclear facilities would be impossible to detect.

Same Dance, Different Partner

Iran’s nemesis Saddam Hussein has famously given the UN’s international nuclear inspectors the two-step over the past 18 years. Before the Gulf War, Saddam’s nuclear program went undetected. Although bound by his 1991 peace treaty to comply with inspectors, Saddam gave inspectors the slip time and again, switching nuclear material from one site to another, hiding equipment at undisclosed locations and denying inspectors the right to inspect some areas. Only when the IAEA found classified Iraqi documents did it find, in Schoenfeld’s words, “Iraq was in possession of 400 tons of previously undisclosed radioactive materials, including six grams of clandestinely produced plutonium and more than 35 kilograms of highly enriched uranium.”

Naturally, after Saddam kicked the inspectors out of Iraq in 1998, the UN lost all track of the nation’s weapons programs, nuclear or otherwise. In his few months in the nation, Dr. David Kay and his team have proven more effective than the entire pre-war IAEA team, forced to jump through Saddam’s hoops. Can one expect the IAEA’s experience with Iraq’s neighbor to be any different? If inspectors failed to find undisclosed Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq (even those already found by Kay), how shall they do so in Iran, which is nearly four times Iraq’s size?


Why the “Cooperation”?


One sees in Iranian President Khatami the same “cooperation” extended by Saddam for years: limited and grudging cooperation, confessions to programs the IAEA already knows about in order to prove one’s “goodwill,” and desperate behind-the-scenes clamor to speed up the quest for a doomsday device. This representative quotation speaks best of Khatami's attitude:


We have repeated so many times, myself the (Supreme) Leader and other officials, that we are not following the path of pursuing nuclear weapons. It’s not important what machinery we have, it’s important that we are not pursuing nuclear weapons. (emphasis added).


Yes, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.


Why Iran’s sudden “cooperation” with inspectors now? As Reza Bayegan has pointed out in these very pages, Iran has agreed to a sigheh, a “temporary marriage” to the law-abiding IAEA regime in order to buy enough time to finish its first nuclear weapon. Submitting to sham inspections, even ever-so-haltingly, will buy Tehran enough legitimacy on the world stage to hold off a military strike. (Even Tony Blair is on board with the Tehran inspections.) And once Iran has a nuclear weapon, an attack will be too late at too uncertain a price. Tehran’s mullahs see how differently the United States treats nuclear North Korea and fumbling Iraq. Even the Bush Administration has promised material rewards to Pyongyang for compliance with NPT (probably a worthless compliance, at that), whereas Saddam, if he is alive, is sweltering in a Tikrit bunker burning candles before the pictures of his two slain sons. Iran knows which example it wants to follow. And we must not let it accomplish that goal.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).

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