There’s a lot of media attention on the Iranian nuclear deal right now, due in part to the fact that the US Senate seems ready to derail the tentative agreement by placing additional economic sanctions on Iran. (Now is as good as any time to remind people that “bipartisanship,” so cherished by the pundit class, can be truly destructive.).
So the talk about new sanctions and the start of the actual nuclear deal next week has reporters talking–but not very carefully. On CBS Evening News (1/12/14), Major Garrett explained that “President Obama said this preliminary deal gives the West the best hope in a decade to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
And he added:
The next big step–persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program entirely, the White House considers that no better than a 50/50 proposition.
As has been made clear many times, it has not been established that Iran actually has a weapons program. What the country has is a uranium enrichment program that is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which routinely finds no evidence Iran is diverting its uranium stockpile for military use. In 2007, the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) found that Iran had most likely stopped any development of a weapons program in 2003.
But the working assumption in much of the corporate media coverage of Iran is that the country has the intention of developing nuclear weapons, and must be stopped by the US and other countries. Garrett’s comment about a “50/50” chance that the White House can get Iran to “abandon its nuclear weapons program entirely” is illustrative. That quote, from Obama last December, were not about actually about a weapons program; that was how Obama characterized a possible final deal on stopping Iran’s enrichment program.
The idea that Iran has a nuclear weapons program is based on speculation and hyperbole. Journalists should be careful to stick to the facts as they are known when discussing this issue, instead of treating suspicions and assumptions as facts.