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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of five books, the latest of which is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of the Porter Report with investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter. Thanks for joining us again, Gareth.GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks for having me on again, Paul.JAY: So what caught your attention this week?PORTER: Well, what caught my attention this week is the reporting about the Iranian position on negotiations with the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, led by the United States, of course) and Iran on the Iranian nuclear program. And what The New York Times reported on October 4 was an American version of an Iranian proposal, which made it sound like the Iranians were being entirely unreasonable, that they were asking for everything and ready to give nothing.And so I've been trying to sort out what we can really figure out about the Iranian position on the negotiations, and indeed what the American position is as well, in regard to the future of negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue. And what I've concluded is that, yes, it's probably true that the Iranians were bargaining very, very hard by putting their willingness to suspend entirely the 20 percent enrichment process, the enrichment of uranium to a 20 percent level, which is the level that they need for their Tehran research reactor for medical purposes, but which also, you know, makes it easier for them to then enrich it to weapons-grade, obviously, for the purpose of a nuclear weapon.What they were asking in return was essentially a complete ending of the sanctions which have been levied against Iran, including, of course, the most recent and most damaging set of sanctions, which are against the oil export sector and central bank. And so, I mean, you know, one could argue, I think, persuasively that the Iranians were not really ready to try to make a deal very quickly or to make a proposal that was going to accelerate dramatically progress toward a deal with the United States and the rest of the P5+1.But I would also say, based on what I've been able to come up with this week, that the Obama administration has not been willing to bargain seriously at all either during 2012, and certainly it's not going to happen until after the presidential election. And I think that much is clear, because the Obama administration position has been almost the mirror image, the exact opposite, if you will, of the Iranian position. The Obama administration's been offering, as the Iranians put it, peanuts in return for the diamonds that they're asking from the Iranians. In other words, they're asking for the Iranians to not just suspend the 20 percent enrichment, but close down the Fordow enrichment facility completely, close it up, lock it up. And then what would they get in return? They would get some aircraft spare parts and some otherâsome minor economic benefits, but no real ending of some of the sanctions that are hurting Iran.JAY: And what is it with Netanyahu, who had been crying there was weeks, a couple of months window where they had to stop Iran or it would be too late? Now all of a sudden he's talking about a year. And then I saw a report in Haaretz the other day which says that the Israeli intelligence is saying a lot of the enriched uranium in fact is being put towards scientific research, and that's another reason, apparently, why they have a bigger window of a year. I mean, why this change of mood there?PORTER: That's right. I mean, what is really quite interesting, as you've just mentioned, is that the Netanyahu government is now embracing the reality that I reported immediately after the IAEA report, the report that I talked about some months ago, some weeks ago, at least, on this program, that said that the Iranians have in fact diverted at least a third of the stockpile of the 20 percent enriched uranium to powder for fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor, which meant that they had actually reduced the overall stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. It was really a very important development, because it meant that the Iranians had moved further away from having a potential capability to move to weapons-grade enrichment of uranium.JAY: So in its own way this is an Iranian way to defusing the situation.PORTER: Exactly. It was a move toward defusing the situation. It was a signal that they want to negotiate on this question, rather than to rush toward a capability for weapons-grade uranium enrichment.And the fact that Netanyahu and his government are now leaking it to the Israeli press that they recognize this reality is really quite an astonishing fact. And I think it does put a very strong punctuation point on what is a very significant development that has occurred in the last few weeks, which is that Netanyahu has clearly backed down from this purported threat to attack Iran, which has had the news media, the world's news media, in a lather for so many months. And some news media, like The Guardian in the U.K., continue to talk about this as though Netanyahu's serious about contemplating an attack on Iran, when in fact he has made it abundantly clear that that is over now.JAY: Now, what do you make of this drone the Israelis shot down? And apparently the news agencies today are saying that Nasrallah from Hezbollah is actually taking credit for having sent this unmanned drone over Israel. I'm not sure you'veâknow more about it, but if in fact Hezbollah has taken credit for this, what message are they trying to send?PORTER: Well, I think Iran and Hezbollah are always trying to send a message that they have assets that they can use to defend themselves and to retaliate against an attack by Israelâor by anyone else, for that matter. So, I mean, this would be, if it's trueâand I don't know for a fact whether it's true or not, don't really have a clue about that, frankly, but if it is true, then it would be in line with what both Hezbollah and Iran have tried to do in the past, which is to build up their deterrent, to convince the Israelis and the rest of the world that they have a very strong deterrent to attack on both Iran and on Hezbollah as well.JAY: Which a lot of Israeli military and intelligence senior leadership have been saying for months, and is perhaps one of the reasons Netanyahu has backed down.PORTER: Well, and I would go beyond that, Paul, to say that, as I published a story or an article in Al Jazeera English last week or last weekend, we now know from the WikiLeaks cables from 2006 that the Israeli government officials were telling their American counterparts that they knew very well that Israel did not have a military option to attack Iran, even though there was some talk at that point of doing so, as early as 2005, 2006. And in 2011, when the Netanyahu government was beginning to up the ante and beginning to talk about the necessity to make a decision about a military option against Iran during the third or fourth quarter of this year, 2012, meaning putting it in the period of the presidential election campaign, we know for a fact that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the United States, Admiral Mullen, that it was well known in the Israeli military and the Israeli government that Israel did not have then a military option to attack Iran. So we're veryâI think we have very convincing evidence now that this has always been a bluff for political purposes by Netanyahu.JAY: And I guess we should always end these interviews by reminding everyone who may not have watched The Real News before that there is still no verifiable evidence that Iran has a weapons program. And the official U.S. government position, at least, is that Iran has made no decision to actually make a nuclear weapon. This usually goes unsaid in most media coverage of this story.PORTER: That's right, the usual boilerplate is that Iran says that its program is for power purposes only, for energy purposes only. But the Western countries suspect that Iran wants to have a nuclear or is in the process of [crosstalk]JAY: Yeah, more than suspect, the media and the politicians talk as if it's an assumed thing that's been proven in some way.PORTER: That's right. I mean, of course, certain political sectors are far more inclined towards emphasizing that message than others. But nevertheless, certainly the news media has bought into what is essentially a neoconservative position on this, which is quite interesting, that is, in terms of the boilerplate that they insert routinely in most stories.JAY: Which, again, justifies sanctions, which were a form of economic warfare. Even though there's no evidence that there's any weapons program, there are severe sanctions anyway.Anyway, thanks very much for joining us, Gareth. PORTER: Thank you, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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