Iran’s ‘Nuclear Ambitions’ Go Unquestioned in Coverage of Iran Deal Momentum

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Iran’s ‘Nuclear Ambitions’ Go Unquestioned in Coverage of Iran Deal Momentum

A New York Times photo caption quotes John Kerry–representing the pro-peace side of the Iran debate–threatening Iran with war. (Photo: Matt Slocum/AP)

As Democratic senators declared their support for the deal struck between Iran and six world powers–an agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–corporate media coverage of this momentum is leaving out at least one crucial detail: the lack of evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

A New York Times  article (9/2/15) cited two main reasons for why many Democrats were persuaded to support the Iran deal: 1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has technology that “could catch even the most minute trace amounts of radioactive material, and help expose any cheating on the deal by Iran,” and 2) the senators “heard from experts who said that a 15-year limit on fissile material, the makings of a nuclear weapon, would do more to slow Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon than a military attack.”

Reporters Carl Hulse and David Herszenhorn could have pointed out, as James Risen and Mark Mazzetti did on the Times‘ front page three years ago (2/24/12;, 2/9/15),  that “American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.” Or quoted, as Seymour Hersh did (New Yorker, 6/6/11), longtime IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s statement that he had not seen “a shred of evidence” that Iran was trying to weaponize its uranium. Or at least included, as basic balance, the fact that Iran had consistently maintained that it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon (, 9/30/13).

None of this stopped USA Today‘s Erin Kelly (9/2/15) from describing the deal as an effort to “curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions”–a phrasing that assumes such ambitions exist.  Or to summarize the deal by saying it “calls for the United States to lift economic sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s agreement not to develop nuclear weapons”; if that were all Iran had to do, the agreement could have been reached years ago, as Iran has long insisted they don’t want an atomic bomb. (The deal actually severely restricts Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to levels that are useful for nuclear power and medical applications.)

The Washington Post (9/2/15) also had an uncritical reference to “Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” It said opponents objected to the deal because it “doesn’t do enough to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and, at best, only delays its pathway to becoming an armed nuclear state.” Again, there was no mention of the widespread doubts or Iran’s vociferous denials that that nation is seeking a nuclear weapon.

When the Post turned to give proponents’ view of the deal, reporters Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello wrote: “But Obama and his proxies have argued that the deal is the best agreement they could have secured, that there is no alternative to it but war with Iran.” In other words, if the deal with Iran fails, then the US must go to war with Iran, because war is the only means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. So the entire spectrum of debate allowed by the Post accepts an Iranian quest for an atomic bomb as an article of faith–and the “left” edge of the debate endorses the legitimacy of preemptive war  (, 8/20/15).

Gunar Olsen

Gunar Olsen is an editorial intern at FAIR and a student at Fordham University.

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