Framing the narrative on Iran's Use of nuclear energy
With the recent release by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their report on Iran, a new episode in the drama of the sanctions on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program is unfolding at the United Nations and in the press. The report is to be considered by the meeting of the 35-member board of the IAEA which begins on Thursday, November 22, 2007.
If the IAEA report provides an accurate description of the reality of the state of Iran's nuclear program, the public would have a way to determine whether or not Iran's nuclear activity represents an activity that falls within the parameters of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT, of which Iran is a signatory, allows for the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes. If Iran's activities are outside those permitted by the NPT, Iran's activity would be an appropriate subject for Security Council action.
This raises the question of what does the IAEA report actually say?
The IAEA report provides some undisputed history about the efforts of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to acquire nuclear power through $10 billion in contracts negotiated with France, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. These were signed in 1976, but went unfulfilled after the 1979 revolution toppling the regime of the Shah. Also the report lists subsequent efforts that Iran made with some of these same countries and additional countries through the 1980s to acquire uranium enrichment technology. With the failure of these efforts, in the mid 1980s, Iran turned to other sources to acquire uranium enrichment technology.
The report also details Iran's responses to a series of questions about how it developed and tested P-1 and P-2 centrifuges. The report states that information obtained from Iran in response to a number of the questions that the IAEA presented was "consistent with information available to the agency through its investigations."
On other issues to which the IAEA is seeking answers, the report explains Iran has agreed to a scheduled work plan between the IAEA and Iran according to which Iran has "agreed to provide answers" and where relevant, access, "in the next few weeks" that the IAEA has requested.
The report also lists several issues which the IAEA has not been able to verify or dispute, such as whether or not a heavy water production plant is operating. The report states that such verification would require Iran to again adopt the Additional Protocol which provides for inspection above that required under the NPT. The Additional Protocol is an agreement signed by some NPT signatories to allow investigation by the IAEA into non nuclear activities that might be connected with weapons development.
"The knowledge about Iran's current nuclear programme is diminishing."
Iran, for its part, explains that it had accepted the additional inspections provided for under the Additional Protocol, but once IAEA activity was transferred to the Security Council, political forces in Iran became concerned and required the suspension of Iran's activity under the Additional Protocol.
Iran has indicated that it would again accept the increased inspections provided for by the Additional Protocol if the precondition that it cease nuclear enrichment for power generation is withdrawn by the Security Council.
The report states that "it should be noted that, since early 2006, the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant to the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As a result, the Agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear programme is diminishing." This statement in the report demonstrates that the IAEA would prefer that Iran return to providing the inspections and information provided for under the Additional Protocol. The report also notes that Iran has not ceased its nuclear enrichment activity in response to the Security Council sanctions implemented to force it to do so.
The NPT specifically allows all signatory nations the right for the peaceful development of nuclear energy. The UN Security Council sanctions requiring Iran to stop nuclear enrichment for the production of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is a violation, Iran claims, of this right under the NPT.
There is no issue of whether there is a right under NPT for a nation to do nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes. All nations who signed the NPT have this right. Even the U.S. government acknowledges this right when it characterizes this right as a loophole under the NPT.
There is contention especially between the US and its allies and nations like Iran which seek to do their own nuclear enrichment. A peaceful resolution of this contention would require careful consideration. It would also require an active press working to clarify the issues and where the disagreement lies. It appears instead that some nations like the U.S. who already have the capability to do nuclear enrichment are acting in a way to monopolize this technology and to prevent other nations from acquiring this capability. This is one of the underlying issues in the controversy over Iran's activities in developing its capability and capacity to produce nuclear energy.
How has the US responded to the release of IAEA report and how has the press covered it?
Responding immediately to the report, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to reporters, stating that based on the report, the U.S. government wanted "to move forward with another resolution in the Security Council under Chapter 7 to impose additional sanctions on Iran." Khalilzad said that there had been resistance from China to cooperation over increasing the sanctions against Iran. "There has been a dragging of feet by the Chinese in terms of participation in the political directors meeting to come to an agreement on a new resolution as quickly as possible," Khalilzad explained.
This brief encounter between the U.S. Ambassador to the UN and reporters helps to demonstrate the way the U.S. government approaches Security Council deliberations and the role played by the U.S. press in the process.
Responding to Khalilzad's presentation, the WSJ article explains that "Iran says its program is purely civilian. The U.S. and its European allies believe it is for weapons." Other press responses which followed included a Reuter's report that the IAEA report "may open Iran to harsher U.N. sanctions due to Western suspicions it is secretly striving to make atom bombs and its defiance of U.N. demands to suspend enrichment."
The Washington Post reported that "The United States warned yesterday that Iran's failure to fully comply with U.N. mandates - to suspend enrichment and detail its nuclear program - is grounds for the United Nations to proceed on a long-delayed resolution imposing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic."
Khalilzad was asked by a reporter at the UN the question: "How does the Security Council, how does the IAEA deal with the issue of a country that wants the ability to do enrichment without accusing them of military activity?"
He answered, "We suspect that the objective is not purely peaceful production of electricity because if it was there are ways to deal with that but that there is the desire as part of an overall program of Iranian foreign policy to have nuclear weapons capability. That is what we suspect."
Thus the issue of Iran's development of nuclear enrichment activity is directed away from the facts, to the US government's "suspicion" that Iran desires a nuclear weapons capability. The press reports quoted above did not help to look into or clarify the issues involved. Instead they carried forward the US position and interpretation of the facts.
Describing the impact of such press reports, Robert Perry of Consortium News explains that such news reports serve to inject "a synthetic reality" into public opinion in the U.S. "that misrepresents recent history, exaggerates external dangers and ridicules the few citizens who object." The impact of such narratives, Parry believes, is "quite practical and immediate." As American politicians along with the media "keep turning up the heat - more and more Americans are awakening to the threat but remain unclear what to do." He calls this a "false narrative."
This narrative is part of the "war of ideas" that is part of the arsenal of weapons employed by a group of neoconservatives who have functioned within the U.S. government and in the media and think tanks to create the kind of "false narrative" which Parry proposes supports a specific set of policy objectives but maintains a means of hiding these objectives from the public.
Several of the neocons had been students of or were otherwise influenced by the political theory of Leo Strauss. Strauss was "a political theorist who espoused the need for leaders to engage in the manipulation of the public for its own good," Parry explains.
An article by Danny Postel about Leo Strauss offers some further insight into the neoconservative fascination with Strauss. Postel interviews Shadia Drury, a Canadian Professor who has studied and written about Strauss's work (9):
"A second fundamental belief of Strauss's ancients [ancient Greek philosophers- ed] has to do with their insistence," Drury explains, "on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book 'Persecution and the Art of Writing', Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons -- to spare the people's feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals."
When the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton was asked how he could justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction, his response was that everyone at the time believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This narrative is contrary to the fact that there was wide spread opposition to the US government's claims and to its invasion of Iraq including intelligence analysts and protestors.
In this way, however, Bolton and the other neoconservatives who vigorously campaigned for the invasion of Iraq are able to hide what their real political objectives were and escape blame for the many lives of Iraqis and U.S. military who have been the victims of the policy.
Parry proposes that it is important to establish an accurate narrative of a situation in order to be able to challenge the fictitious narrative the neoconservatives use as part of their weapons against the public and those who are their specific targets. It is the accurate narrative that provides the means to counter the harmful policy goals underlying the false narratives of the neoconservatives. To help establish the underlying facts and a more accurate telling of the issues involved is the needed role of the press.