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Iran Gets The Iraq Treatment: The dispute over Iran’s nuclear program sounds familiar

A.K Gupta Feb 7, 2006

It’s no coincidence that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program sounds familiar. The Bush administration is once again using deceit to threaten military action against a country allegedly trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And playing along once again is the New York Times, which is publishing flimsy evidence as fact.

The U.S. claims—include a stolen laptop, a nefarious-sounding “Green Salt” project and traces of highly enriched uranium—have proven baseless so far. As in the spurious link between al Qaeda and Iraq, perception matters more than facts.

And the perception is that Iran is hiding a weapons program, which is being used to justify a military strike. According to a recent Zogby poll, 47 percent of Americans back a unilateral strike against Iran.

The Bush administration is stoking the war mood by declaring, “all options are on the table.” But its military options are few. Iran has two trump cards – its ability to disrupt oil supplies in the Persian Gulf and stoke attacks against U.S. forces bogged down in Iraq.

At the center of the crisis is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Western powers, according to a Feb. 3 Times report, are pressuring “Iran to give up two rights guaranteed under the [NPT]: its right to enrich uranium to produce electric power, and its right to withdraw from the treaty if its security is threatened.”

The Times report concludes, “the international community is essentially reinterpreting the treaty by holding Iran to a higher standard.” The double standard includes the nuclear powers’ refusal to disarm, as required under the NPT.

The crisis intensified on Jan. 7 when Iran announced that it was suspending “all the voluntary measures and extra cooperation with” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This culminated in a 27-3 vote by the IAEA board on Feb. 4 to send the case to the U.N. Security Council. It will defer the issue until March 6 when IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei submits a report.

Following the IAEA decision, Iran announced that it would proceed with uranium enrichment, while adding, “all the country’s peaceful activities will remain within the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

So if Iran suspended only “voluntary” agreements and is adhering to the NPT, then what’s the crisis? Even the IAEA admits that its agreements with Iran, which included snap inspections, are “non legally binding.”

Recently, I spoke to an Iranian-American physician who just returned from Tehran. He says that the real issue is the fuel cycle, not a bomb. Namely, Western countries (not just the U.S.) want to control the uranium enrichment
process. With oil prices rising and the globe warming, nuclear power is poised to become an increasingly sought after energy source. Thus, he argues, the West wants to control as many energy sources as possible.

The New York Times admits as much. Iran reached an agreement with England, France and Germany to voluntarily shut down a uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz in November 2004. It hoped to gain improved economic and political ties in return. “Tired of waiting for the rewards,” the Times reported on Feb. 3, Iran reopened the Natanz plant in January.

The Iranians were convinced that the Europeans “were determined to permanently deprive Iran of its right to develop a fuel cycle for peaceful purposes.”

Processing uranium for electricity generation (which requires enriching the uranium 235 isotope from its natural state of .7 percent to 3 to 5 percent) is one step towards weapons grade uranium (around 90 percent U235).

The Washington Post reported last Aug. 23, however, “No Proof Found of Iran Arms Program.” It noted that Iran went so far as to offer “to put the entire program under IAEA monitoring.” Not wanting Iran to retain any
bomb-making capacity, Europe and the United States rejected the proposal.

The IAEA for its part is now invoking the “prove a negative” burden placed on Iraq. It states, “after nearly three years of intensive verification activity, the Agency is not yet in a position… to conclude that there are no undeclared
nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

As for the traces of highly enriched uranium, the Post reported that a team of scientists from the big five Security Council nations “definitively matched” the uranium to contaminated centrifuge equipment purchased from Pakistan.
One Bush administration official admitted “the biggest smoking gun… is now eliminated.”

Still, “all options are on the table.” Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte told the U.S. Senate on Feb. 2 that is because the danger is Iran “will acquire a nuclear weapon… and integrate it with ballistic missiles.”

Yet the most recent U.S. intelligence review estimated that Iran is “about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon,” according to the Washington Post.

That hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from promoting, or the Times from reporting, what appear to be outright fabrications. The day after Bush issued a thinly veiled call for regime change in Iran in the State of the Union, the Times reported on “a secretive Iranian entity called the Green Salt Project, which worked on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design.”

Some of this was cited in the IAEA report. The Times writes, “American officials say the [IAEA] allegations are based in part on material from a laptop computer seized in Iran.” This is the infamous laptop that Times reporter David Sanger hyped as proof of a weapons program. The laptop supposedly came from one unnamed source that received it from another unnamed source, now dead.

The warhead design documents have since been shown to be for a missile re-entry vehicle, which is fundamentally different. An all-too-familiar pattern is emerging.

Dodgy evidence provided by the Bush administration is being reported on as fact by the same paper that hyped the Iraq threat. Picked up by a U.N. body subject to U.S. pressure, the charges are provoking an international crisis. Coming full circle, the Bush administration, through the Security Council, will now judge evidence it may well have fabricated.