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    Middle East
     May 11, 2005
US media and Iran's nuclear threat
By Kaveh Afrasiabi

TEHRAN - In a sign of both historical de ja vu and Chomskyian "manufacturing consensus", the US media is nowadays filled with news on Iran's nuclear threat, thus preparing the American public for yet another Middle East conflict without, however, maintaining a modicum of balance by reflecting the Iranian point of view.

This much is clear in a Fox News special, titled "Iran: The Nuclear Threat", that aired on Sunday, May 8. Hosted by Chris Wallace (with whom this author worked as an Iran expert at Wallace's previous home, ABC News), this program lacked the minutest evidence of objectivity, displaying instead piles of prejudice on top of prejudice reminding one of the Iraq weapons of mass destruction threat played up by the right-wing, sensationalist, network during 2002 and early 2003, duping millions of American viewers about the authenticity of the Bush administration's allegations against the regime of Saddam Hussain.

The Fox program on Iran is simply the latest example of how the US media has traded political favoritism to the White House, and its fierce demonization of Iran, for objective news. No Iranian official was interviewed for this program, which covered the Iran-Europe nuclear talks, only the European officials nowadays joining Washington's chorus for United Nations Security Council action against Iran, or with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling an Iran bomb the biggest "existential threat" to the Jewish state.

On May 9, former chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix spoke at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review conference in New York and proposed a Middle East ban on uranium enrichment, covering both Iran and Israel, as a compromised solution to the so-called Iran threat. His comments were completely ignored by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and cited only by the LA Times. Clearly, the more Israel presses on Iran, the more it draws the international spotlight on itself.

A clue to the biased nature of the Fox program, it dealt with Iran's efforts to hide its nuclear activities for several years, yet without bothering to mention that even the UN's atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while critical of Iran, did not find it in material breech of its obligations to the NPT since Iran had some 187 days prior to the commencement of those hidden facilities to declare them to the IAEA. Also, it should be mentioned that Iran's secrecy was a logical reaction to Washington's refusal of Iran's right to nuclear technology and conscientious attempt to block Iran's access to this technology contrary to Article IV of the NPT.

Presently, Iran has put on the table in the Iran-European Union talks a "phased approach" whereby it could resume low-enriched uranium production under full international inspection, thus offering a technical solution to the thorny issue of "objective guarantees" mentioned in the Iran-EU agreement signed in Paris last November.

Somehow, the Iranian proposal was leaked to the press, and ABC News published it on its website, thus making a mockery of the Europeans' claim of sincerity and trustworthiness with respect to their Iranian co-negotiators. In comparison, Fox News did not even bother with such nuances and simply went for the recycling of the Manichean demonization of Iran as a "terror-sponsoring" state whose possession of bombs would "threaten millions of people and the security of the United States", not unlike Vice President Dick Cheney's pre-Iraq war alarm about "mushroom clouds" over American cities caused by Iraq's imminent possession of nuclear weapons.

What was equally absent in the Fox report mentioned above was the fact that for two years now Iran has signed the intrusive Additional Protocol, allowing unfettered inspection of its nuclear sites to the IAEA, whose chief has repeatedly gone on record stating that there is no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons. A centerpiece of Iran's offer to Europe is the immediate conversion of low-enriched uranium to fuel rods, verified under IAEA inspections beyond even what the Additional Protocol calls for, which would, in turn, address the Western fears about a re-enrichment aimed at weapons grade (ie, 90% as opposed to 3.5% to 11% required for peaceful purposes). Again, neither Fox nor ABC, nor any other US media outlet, has so far bothered to delve into the specifics of the Iranian proposal, preferring to stick with abstract generalities and cliche accusations instead.

Such an approach may "sell the news" better and make the networks appear more "patriotic" in the current conservative political milieu in the United States, yet it hardly qualifies for the high standards of independent media self-priding as the "fourth branch" in the political system. On the contrary, as both the examples of Iraq, and increasingly, Iran demonstrate, the main, and mainstream, media in the US is better viewed as an appendage of the executive branch manipulating it, and its agenda, almost at will.

A caricature of the American media? Hardly, especially when considering the fact that in that same program, when dealing with the issue of "America's options", there was not even a passing reference to the importance of IAEA inspections and the option of monitored, contained Iranian enrichment, together with Iran's political, security, and economic integration with the West, an option echoed by a very limited number of Iran experts in the US, including a former National Security aid, Gary Sick.

Unfortunately, voices of reason such as Sick's are too few and too often neglected by the media, whose pundits such as Chris Wallace choose to tread the safe political waters of toeing the official line instead of introducing a dent in the carefully-constructed regime of truth on Iran on the part of Washington's pro-Israel policy-makers, who are filling the TV news hours with their concerted calls for Security Council action against Iran.

Yet, what this army of anti-Iran pundits consistently overlook is the lesson from the Iraq fiasco, that is, the world's unwillingness to fall in the trap of disinformation causing war via UN actions serving as a legitimating precursor to war. After all, the role of the UN is pacific settlement of disputes, not as a negative surrogate of closet unilateralism or, worse, pre-emptive warfare, right?

Furthermore, another major shortcoming of the current US media coverage of Iran's nuclear issue is that such coverage give little insight on what would happen if the US and Europe hurl the issue to the UN Security Council. It is hardly given that in the light of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, fulfilling its NPT obligations, the Security Council would impose sanctions on Iran and, in case it chooses to do so, that would mean an oil embargo, causing higher oil prices hardly affordable by the global economy; short of oil embargo, a UN sanction would be practically toothless and a continuation of the present, decade-long US sanctions, which have proven a failure in deterring foreign investments in Iran, as the Iran-China mega deal worth US$100 billion clearly demonstrates. In all likelihood, China would veto any Security Council sanctions on Iran as long as no smoking gun on Iran's alleged weapons program has been found.

The slight chance of successful UN action against Iran has, in turn, fueled alternative options by Israel and the US, chiefly the military option, which is where the sensationalist US media can be found working overtime to produce the necessary requirement of a public blessing for the next military gambit of the Western superpower, without presenting the slightest clue that any lesson has been learnt from the Iraq blunder.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and "Iran's Foreign Policy Since 9/11", Brown's Journal of World Affairs, co-authored with former deputy foreign minister Abbas Maleki, No 2, 2003. He teaches political science at Tehran University.

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