Rhetoric about Iran repeat of Iraq propaganda?
David Gardner: Without evidence, threat of Iran’s nuclear proliferation seems more like political convenience than reality
Sept. 14 – Recent suggestion of a covert nuclear weapons program in Iran, by the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is lacking conclusive evidence, said David Gardner, foreign affairs editor for The Financial Times in London.
“[The IAEA] produced a report which was fairly combative and came fairly close to accusing the Iranians of operating a covert nuclear weapons program,” Gardner told The Real News. Previous IAEA reports concerning Iran do not imply a covert program and Gardner said people in senior intelligence positions have told him that there is no new evidence to suggest this.
Gardner said there are many reasons why intelligence information might be reinterpreted to create more suspicion, particularly to support Israel’s threat to bomb Iran to prevent nuclear armament.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi. I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to The Real News Network. We’re coming to you from Washington. In July of this year, Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, told the UK Iraq inquiry that she had told Blair that were there were no weapons of mass destruction—that’s Prime Minister Blair—before the road to war. Her advice to Prime Minister Blair was ignored, as similar advice in Washington was also ignored by the political leaders there. But why does all this matter now? Well, first of all, politicians involved in making those decisions have yet to be held accountable. But perhaps even more importantly, are we seeing the same thing all over again when it comes to the issue of a nuclear program in Iran? Well, that’s the question raised by our guest. Joining us again now is David Gardner. David is the foreign affairs editor for The Financial Times in London. He’s author of the book Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance, published in 2009. Thanks for joining us again, David. So talk a bit about this issue of are we seeing this again that means are we seeing either fabrication of evidence or misuse of fragmentary evidence to create some kind of rationale for war. Do you think that’s what’s happening?
DAVID GARDNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS EDITOR, FINANCIAL TIMES: Well, I have absolutely no evidence for the fabrication of evidence. What is perceptible, it seems to me, though, is a ratcheting up of the intelligence case vis-à-vis Iran without really the introduction of any substantially new information that I can see. I began to notice this, I think, maybe in February this year, with the change in leadership at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, after [Mohamed] ElBaradei left. They produced a report which was fairly combative and came fairly close to accusing the Iranians of operating a covert nuclear weapons program.
JAY: Something that the IAEA had not done under ElBaradei.
GARDNER: It had not. It asked questions, but it did not make an accusation like that, and he resisted making it. Absolutely right. Yeah. That’s one aspect of it. Then this has grown in tandem with the diplomatic pressure, the saber rattling, and the sanctions, the fourth round of sanctions, which has just been put in place, and, meanwhile, initiatives such as the Turkey-Brazilian initiative, the nuclear fuel swap, which was almost the same (the quantities were slightly different) as the offer which was put to Iran last October-November, I guess, by the US and its international allies, so a deal that was the same in its essentials, which was simply battered off the table, even though Iran agreed to and signed up to it—the first time they’d actually signed an agreement of this sort. So when you get all that happening and you get the sort of noises off from Israel—it’s periodically stated veiled threats, for the most part, to go ahead and bomb Iran or bomb its nuclear installations if this can’t be dealt with satisfactorily by any other means. But so far as I can see, there isn’t any new information concerning Iran.
JAY: There seems to be nothing new from the time in the last days of the Bush administration when the collective wisdom of the American intelligence community produced the national intelligence estimate which said there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. There doesn’t really seem to be a single piece of concrete new evidence. But that NIE report was essentially ignored not just by McCain in the election campaign; it was ignored more or less by Obama then and since. They’re all acting like there never was such a report.
GARDNER: No. And as you know, there’s a new national intelligence estimate in the pipeline, and it keeps on being delayed, and consequently there’s quite a lot of speculation about why. Now, I mean, I think that the state of debate inside Iran is roughly as follows. Obviously they want mastery of the full nuclear fuel cycle. That much is abundantly clear. Equally, it seems almost certain—not absolutely definitive, but it seems pretty clear that they also want the ballistic capability to assemble a bomb, were they to design to do so. What is not clear—and I think in this sense the previous national intelligence estimate has got it right—there isn’t a resolution of the debate inside Iran about whether to weaponize or not. Now, this is where I think the argument is in danger of being tilted. I’ve spoken to some quite senior intelligence people about this, and when challenged they say they either have no evidence that there has been a decision inside Iran to weaponize, or anything that they have is, quote, “very thin”. So I would be on the alert a little bit for any change in that situation, where it is being asserted that that debate has been concluded, they’ve decided to go for it, because in the sort of hyperbole and the rhetoric surrounding all this—which is, admittedly, stoked often by the sort of breast-beating activities of people like President Ahmadinejad in Iran, this curious mixture of sort of victimhood and arrogance that he and others in that regime display, blurring the line between deterrence and belligerence all the time and spooking people. So, you know, they help this a lot. But on our side, I mean, this subtle sort of ratcheting up of the language used to describe a situation which, in its essentials, so far as I can see, hasn’t actually changed—.
JAY: To what extent do your sources give you the sense that Israel’s threats about bombing Iran—and the Republicans here in Washington last month or a couple of months ago actually tried to pass a resolution through Congress supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, including bombing Iran to prevent the nuclear program. I mean, to what extent do you think this is more a war of words, both serving each own’s domestic audience, meaning Israel and Iran? I mean, it’s very good to have the external threat for Ahmadinejad, to talk about him standing up for Iran’s sovereign dignity and so on, and it’s also pretty good for the Israeli elite, especially the right in power right now, to have the existentialist threat of Iran. Or do you think this—or are they actually serious about some kind of military option here?
GARDNER: I think that Israel is serious about the option, yes. Yes, I do. And you’re absolutely right, I mean, that this phony war, this war of words, this, you know, slinging around of threats, is actually quite useful to people like Ahmadinejad. It enables him to circle the wagons and sort of cow into submission his own opposition, because otherwise they could be presented as traitors at a time of, you know, national emergency and so on. And that’s really unhelpful if you would like to see some form of political change and reform in Iran. But, no, to get back to your core question, do I think Israel is capable of doing it? I would have thought, personally, that the chances of them doing it are slightly better than 50-50. I regret to say that, but I do think that, yeah. And I think one of the reasons why, for example, Turkey has become so active in regional diplomacy, and particularly on this issue, is because they believe that Israel is perfectly capable of doing it. And I think they have some reason to believe it.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
GARDNER: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.