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Rumor Control: Contra NYT, Iran Didn't Renege on Shipping Uranium

Foreign ministers from other world powers joined Secretary of State John Kerry in an effort to reach the outlines of a nuclear accord with Iran by a midnight Tuesday deadline. (Credit: Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski)

US, European, and Iranian negotiators are working against a self-imposed Tuesday deadline to secure a "framework agreement" which will outline the parameters of a comprehensive agreement to be achieved by June on international limitation and supervision of Iran's nuclear program and the lifting of international sanctions on Iran.

On Sunday night at 9:15 pm ET, the New York Times sent me a scary email:

Breaking News: Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal

Here's what the NYT reported:

With a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.

For months, Iran tentatively agreed that it would send a large portion of its stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would not be accessible for use in any future weapons program. But on Sunday Iran's deputy foreign minister made a surprise comment to Iranian reporters, ruling out an agreement that involved giving up a stockpile that Iran has spent years and billions of dollars to amass.

This news might have seemed to validate Republican-Netanyahu talking points against the negotiations. There's no point in trying to make a deal with these people, because they're people who agree to something but then renege. That's what's "backed away," "no longer willing," and "tentatively agreed," imply, right? They agreed, and then they reneged.

But what if the Iranians had never agreed to this demand? What if this demand is not, in fact, "key" or "critical" to an agreement? Then the scary headline that the New York Times emailed me was wrong.


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Monday morning, the NYT reported that US officials were pushing back against the previous NYT article:

1. Iran had never agreed to this demand.
2. Shipping uranium out of Iran had not been ruled out in the talks.
3. There are other perfectly good ways to limit the military potential of Iran's nuclear program.

American officials said on Monday that they were still negotiating with their Iranian counterparts on one of the main issues remaining in their efforts to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear program -- how to dispose of Iran's big nuclear stockpile -- and that shipping the atomic fuel out of the country was still a possibility.


"Contrary to the report in The New York Times, the issue of how Iran's stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively," a senior State Department official said in a statement that was emailed to reporters.

"There is no question that disposition of their stockpile is essential to ensuring the program is exclusively peaceful," added the official, who declined to be identified under the department's protocol for briefing reporters. "There are viable options that have been under discussion for months, including shipping out the stockpile, but resolution is still being discussed. The metric is ensuring the amount of material remaining as enriched material will only be what is necessary for a working stock and no more."

So, the New York Times has corrected the record. Mazl tov! Is the world the same now as it would be if the NYT had never run the scary headline in the first place?

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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