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Gareth Porter: US continues to insist Iran gives up all nuclear enrichment and offers no concessions on sanctions

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

The talks in Moscow between Iran and what they call the P5+1—those are the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—discussing Iran’s nuclear program—Iran’s saying it’s a program for energy, and others saying they think it might be one for weapons, although that’s still rather a dubious proposition if one wants to base all of this on evidence, not supposition. At any rate, those talks ended in Moscow without a new deal, to no one’s surprise.

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Gareth Porter. He comes to us from our office in Washington, and he is an investigative journalist, a historian, and an often-contributor to The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks very much for having me again, Paul.

JAY: And congratulations. Gareth just was awarded the Martha Gellhorn award for investigative journalism for a series of pieces he did on drone strikes and such in Afghanistan. And we’re going to—below this video we’ll rerun some of the interviews we did with Gareth about this.

But let’s talk about those Moscow meetings, Gareth. So what happened?

PORTER: What happened in Moscow was really a repeat of what happened in Baghdad a few weeks earlier, which was that the United States and its allies went into those talks firmly committed to a position that said, we want the Iranians to basically hand over the 20 percent enriched uranium, get rid of it, part with it completely, stop producing it, and essentially dismantle the Qom enrichment facility where it was being enriched, and not use it for anything else. And in return, the United States was really offering nothing more than an opportunity to buy some spare parts for airplanes. And that was, from the Iranian point of view, really not the kind of reciprocity that they thought had been agreed to by Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy person who had initiated the talks in the first place. So that really was the fundamental—.

JAY: Meaning that Iran thought that there would be some compromise on the sanctions, because that—I mean, just before the Baghdad talks, the head of the IAEA was talking about how they’d reached a whole new level of agreement for inspections in all of this, and I guess Iran expected some drop in sanctions as a result. Is that it?

PORTER: Well, I think Iran definitely expected that the issue of sanctions would be addressed, that there would be some indication of willingness to ease the sanctions in some way. I mean, there’s no—at this point, I’ve never seen any specific report indicating that the Iranians had made a specific demand with regard to easing sanctions, but they did expect that that would be on the table. And that’s precisely what was not on the table in those talks.

So it was really all about the United States and its allies in the P5+1 essentially saying, we want you to make a gesture for confidence-building without really getting anything in return, and then once you’ve done that, then we’ll go on to talk about the next step. And the Iranians, I think understandably, felt that that was really quite dishonest, because essentially they were stripping or trying to strip Iran of some key bargaining chips. And let’s face it: those 20 percent enriched stockpiles of uranium were nothing more than bargaining chips for Iran. The reason that they applied themselves over the past couple of years to produce so much 20 percent enriched uranium was in fact to be able to use it to get the United States to come to the table specifically for the purpose of reaching a broader deal.

JAY: Well, Gareth, I guess the argument you get from the Americans, and perhaps some of the Germans and other P5 members, is that the reason they’re at 20 percent enrichment is ’cause they want to get to this capability line, capacity line. You know, a lot of people argue that Iran wants to get near the ability to create a nuclear weapon, but, they do acknowledge, have not yet decided they actually want to build one. And so this line in the sand they’re creating about 20 percent is they don’t want them to be so close to having the capacity. I mean, that’s the counterargument, is it not?

PORTER: Right, Paul. But what I’m saying is that it’s—the 20 percent enrichment stockpile is not the issue that is causing these talks to break down; it’s the refusal of the P5+1 to put forward a real indication of willingness to put something on the table that’s meaningful in return. And that’s why I think the Iranians are quite suspicious of being deprived of those bargaining chips, because once they give them up without getting anything in return, they are then more vulnerable to the U.S. saying, okay, now we’ve got them where we want them, now we’ll make the demand for them to stop enrichment. And the Iranians, of course, will say no, but they won’t have any hope of them reaching [crosstalk]

JAY: Right. I mean, there actually was a Brazilian proposal to deal with that 20 percent that the P5, and Americans particularly, weren’t interested in.

PORTER: Well, that’s right. I mean, that would have dealt with the issue. And they were fairly close to an agreement—at least they were in the ballpark, and they were discussing the specifics of how to do it. And the Iranians wanted some assurance that they would get the fuel rods for their Tehran research reactor immediately, rather than have to wait for ten months or a year for these fuel rods to arrive. And the United States would not give way on that. So that’s why they didn’t reach agreement.

JAY: Now, where are we at in what evidence there is that there actually is a weapons program? I mean, there’s a severe sanctions going on now. There’s essentially economic warfare going on against Iran. But the actual, at least, public scientific evidence that there’s any program going on at all is, if I understand correctly, weak to thin to nil. Yet every so often the IAEA seems to suggest, oh, there’s something going on; for example, look at these satellite photos. Where are we at with this? ‘Cause it doesn’t seem to go away.

PORTER: Right, and it’s not going to go away as long as there’s a need to keep up political pressure on Iran for the purpose of trying to force them to stop enriching uranium. I think that’s really the bottom line in terms of why you get IAEA reports that are quite sensational, making claims that can’t really be backed up.

Let me go back to beginning on this, to the fundamental reality I think that we’re facing, and that is that over and over again you’ve had a pattern over the past ten years of reports that come from an unidentified state—and that unidentified state is almost invariably Israel—which make claims that the Iranians were carrying out covert nuclear weapons related activities. And when those reports were tracked down, when the investigation reached the point where the Iranians actually said, okay, we’re going to turn over the information that proves that you were wrong, the Iranians were able to do so. In other words, those unsubstantiated claims were shown to have been false.

That, I think, is the real storyline behind the headlines that have been coming out since last November about this famous bomb containment chamber or [inaud.] Parchin military base in Iran, supposedly built in 2000, installed in 2000, and used for the purpose of carrying out what are called hydrodynamic tests, meaning, essentially, testing components of a nuclear weapon or a stage of a nuclear weapon explosion using non-fissile material, a simulation, for the test. And what the IAEA claimed—again, on the basis of the information they got from this unidentified state—was that this bomb chamber, this containment chamber on the Parchin base, was installed on a foundation which then had a building built around it, and they claimed—they appeared to claim that there was visual evidence, meaning satellite evidence, of that.

Now, what’s been very important to understand, it seems to me, in the last few months is that that whole story has really come unglued. It’s become unstuck. And so much evidence has now come forward or is available—and I’m going to be publishing some of it very soon—showing that that was clearly a falsehood. The whole idea that there was a bomb containment chamber, explosives containment chamber at Parchin is simply a falsehood. There’s nothing to it.

One of the points that was brought out by Robert Kelley, who you interviewed on Real News Network, is that the claim that there was a 70 kilograms containment of explosives simply does not hold water. There’s no way that you could have, first of all, a hydrodynamic test using 70 kilograms of explosives. It would take many times that, or several times that amount. Secondly, there’s no reason to have an explosives chamber to do a hydrodynamic test outside. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it outside, and you don’t need a chamber. And third, one of the things that is very important in this story is what Robert Kelley, who you interviewed on Real News Network a few days after the IAEA report, has said, which is that, you know, the idea that this explosives containment chamber would contain 70 kilograms of explosives and would be used for a hydrodynamic test just doesn’t add up. Those are technically incompatible. You can’t do a hydrodynamic test with that small an amount of explosives.

JAY: Gareth, when you look at all the evidence—and Robert Kelley’s is a really good example, a former IAEA inspector who presumably knows the methodology and how to do all of this, and, frankly, doesn’t really have a horse in the race, in the sense [that] when you talk to Robert Kelley, you know, he won’t actually give you an opinion on whether or not Iran has a weapons program; he simply says there’s just no scientific evidence that there is one. And this—but it carries on. The media assumes there is, the politicians all talk assuming there is. I mean, and China, Russia, and the other members of the Security Council all go along with this. So, I mean, this is kind of more a geopolitical issue. It is a little strange here. It’s not like any of these countries’ intelligence agencies have put forward any information that adds any more, you could say, weight to the argument that there’s a weapons program. But the world carries on as if there is—and, I should say, with the terrible sanctions program.

PORTER: You’re absolutely right, Paul. I mean, what I think we’re looking at here is a situation where the dominant global coalition of states, led by the United States, has enormous power to determine what is going to be the perception of an issue like the evidence regarding Iran’s nuclear program. And it’s not as though Russia and China really firmly believe that there is evidence of a weapons program. But I think they go along with this because of the necessity for both of those powers to get along with United States, because they have other fish to fry, so to speak. And I think that this is, you know, part of being in the P5+1 is that they have to pick their shots and decide what they’re willing to go to the mat for, and they’re not willing to really say, okay, we really don’t believe you’ve got the evidence, so don’t continue to make that sort of propaganda. And I think that’s part of the problem that really faces anyone trying to figure out what’s really happening.

The other part of the fundamental problem is that the news media is absolutely unwilling and unable to do even the slightest investigation of propaganda claims. They’re simply not interested in trying to get the truth. And therefore they are stenographers every time there’s an IAEA report or an Israeli claim that is coursed through the news media. They go along with it. It’s picked up by—you know, if AP, you know, provides the Israeli propaganda, then it’s picked up by everybody else and becomes, essentially, regarded as a fact. And therefore when I try to put out the counterfactual—not the counterfactual, but the counter-propaganda facts, you know, very few people know about it and it’s drowned out.

JAY: Well, not on The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

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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 four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.