Iran War Weekly - May 26, 2013

by Frank Broadhead

While huge majorities of the US public oppose war with Iran or US intervention in Syria, Congress and the mainstream US media have stepped up the pressure for a more aggressive stance on both fronts. With these factors in mind, we might ask whether President Obama's speech this week at the National Defense University – in which he tried to dispose of liberral pressures on his policies re: drones, Guantanamo, and "the war on terror" – should be read as a move away from a confrontation in the Middle East, or as an attempt to secure his liberal base before more intense confrontations with Iran and Syria.
Following a series of generally unfruitful meetings regarding Iran's nuclear program, further diplomacy is now on pause until after Iran's presidential election, which will take place on June 14th. This week Iran's Guardian Council disqualified the two presidential aspirants who might have challenged the policies of Iran's Supreme Leader and the ruling conservative circles; but the fact that the candidate who has emerged as favored to win has been Iran's chief nuclear negotiator may be significant in the future.
Towards Iran, the US Congress has now done everything but declare war. In the House this week, a committee reported out a bill that moved toward a full trade embargo – or economic war – against Iran; while by a vote oe of 99 to 0 the Senate passed a "sense of the Senate" resolution essentially endorsing any military action Israel might take against Iran, and calling on the Obama administration to support whatever Israel does.
Leading media outlets in the United States are also pushing hard for a more aggressive policy towards Iran, perhaps increasingly so. Several articles linked below illustrate this; the media's spinning of the latest report by the UN's IAEA on Iran's nuclear program is a model of news-as-propaganda. One reason for this may be the greater salience of Hezbollah, generally viewed in “the West” as a proxy for Iran, in the fighting in Syria. While Hezbollah's role in the fighting is largely confined to areas of importance to Hezbollah (the Lebanon-Syrian border) and Shi’ism (a shrine desecrated earlier by Opposition forces), Hezbollah's historic conflict with Israel and its designation by the United States (and perhaps soon by the EU) as a "terrorist" organization have added a new element to the internationalization of Syria's civil war. As this weekend's news suggests, the war is well on its way to spilling over into Lebanon.
Once again I would like to thank those who you who have forwarded this newsletter or linked it on your sites. This and previous "issues" of the Iran War Weekly are posted at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383. If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at fbrodhead@aol.com.
Best wishes,
Frank Brodhead
THE IAEA REPORT ON IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency released its quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program this week. The report can be read at http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_Safeguards_report_--_22May2013.pdf. The report included no surprises nor described any deviations from the lines of development suggested in previous IAEA reports. A useful summary/analysis can be read on the Arms Control Association website: http://armscontrolnow.org/2013/05/22/cliff-notes-on-the-may-2013-iaea-report-on-iran/#more-3461
Cliff Notes on the May 2013 IAEA Report on Iran
By Kelsey Davenport, et al., Arms Control Association [May 22, 2013]
---- The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) May 2013 quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program indicates that Tehran is continuing to move forward on its nuclear program, installing more advanced centrifuges and building-up its stockpiles of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent, and moving forward on construction of its heavy water reactor at Arak. The report findings underscore the urgent need to intensify negotiations with Tehran to resolve the political questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program and to resolve the outstanding questions regarding the potential military dimensions of the program, but, at the same time, the findings reinforce earlier assessments that Iran remains years away from obtaining a deliverable nuclear arsenal.
Media Analysis
---- All this seems tame enough, but a closer look at how the IAEA report was covered in the mainstream media is instructive. For example, the New York Times story (by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad) was headlined"Iran is Seen Advancing Nuclear Bid." What does this mean,"nuclear bid:"? It certainly fits comfortably with the claim that Iran is making a"bid" for nuclear weapons; and the burden of the Sanger/Broad story measures the dry facts in the IAEA report with the milestones that would be passed if Iran were making nuclear weapons. So, for example, Iran continues to build its heavy-water nuclear plant at Arak, "a source of plutonium," but the Times readers are not informed that Iran does not have, and is not building, a reprocessing plant that would be required to extract the plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Similarly, Iran continues to enrich uranium to 20 percent U235, a level required for medical purposes, but (ominously) only a stones throw away from the 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon. But the diabolical Iranians are converting their 20-percent uranium into metal oxide, useful for reactor fuel but not for a bomb; thus diabolically keeping its stock of 20 percent uranium gas below the level that could be further enriched to produce one nuclear bomb, an Israeli "red line" that would be used to justify a military attack against Iran. And (gasp) they have installed some 600 more advanced centrifuges, but (again, diabolically) have yet to bring them online. "Much Ado About Nothing," by Sanger and Broad. A more balanced reading of the IAEA report might deduce that Iran is continuing to assert its right to develop a nuclear program, while making concessions to "Western" fears about nuclear weapons and taking steps to prevent the foreclosure of opportunities for continued negotiations.
The New York Times article can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/world/middleeast/irans-nuclear-program-is-seen-making-progress-in-iaea-report.html?hp. A widely published article with similar problems from the Associated Press can be read at http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/iran-has-installed-700-nuclear-centrifuges-this-year-diplomats-say-1.525393. A very good analysis of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's shrill response to the IAEA report ("diplomacy and sanctions are not working!") is by Jason Ditz,  "Netanyahu: Diplomacy, Sanctions Unable to Stop Iran," Antiwar.com [May 23, 2013] http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/23/netanyahu-diplomacy-sanctions-unable-to-stop-iran/. At his website "Enduring America," analyst Scott Lucas walks us through some of the key points in the report that are spinnable by those seeking to justify more aggressive action against Iran. His article, “Iran Analysis: Hype & Substance --- 3 Key Points on Latest IAEA Nuclear Report,” [May 23, 2013] can be read at http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/5/23/iran-analysis-hype-substance-3-key-points-on-latest-iaea-nuc.html. Finally, an interesting Associate Press article was published Saturday that bears on the IAEA report itself. Written by George Jahn, who is frequently described by critics of US diplomacy towards Iran as a water carrier for US propaganda, the article states that two IAEA officials told Jahn that 80 percent of their "intelligence" about Iran's nuclear program "comes from the United States and its allies." Whether this is accurate of course is not known, but it suggests/confirms that the IAEA reports need to be read with a critical eye. (The article can be found at http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_23319960/u-n-nuclear-agencys-iran-probe-driven-by.)