The Iran Hawks' Latest Misleading Meme

The Washington Times is deeply concerned about the nuclear talks with Iran that got underway last weekend. A Times editorial worries that, at the end of these negotiations, Iran may be permitted to enrich uranium--and suggests that this would represent a departure from the traditional position of the United Nations and the United States.

In truth, this would represent no such departure. Long before these talks, the US signaled that Iran could be allowed to enrich uranium--as is permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty--if new, more intrusive monitoring measures could ensure that the uranium isn't part of a weapons program.

So how does the Times manage to blur the actual position of the US and for that matter the UN? Via two maneuvers.

1) The Times says the UN has demanded "that Iran cease uranium enrichment." Well, that's technically a defensible formulation, but if you take "cease" to mean "permanently end," it's not true. UN resolutions call for Iran to "suspend" uranium enrichment--as a confidence building measure that could then lead to, as one resolution puts it, a "negotiated solution that guarantees Iran's nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes."

Various Security Council members who voted on these resolutions have made it clear that uranium enrichment can be part of this scenario if Iran agrees to tight monitoring. That Iran's right to enrich uranium could be acknowledged under those circumstances is, Hillary Clinton told Congress in March of 2011, "the position of the international community, along with the United States."

2) The Times further obscures this reality by quoting a media report that says last weekend's talks saw "an important reversal of America's position" (though I couldn't verify that, as the Times implies, this quote is a reference to Iran's being allowed to enrich uranium). What's odd is that this report comes from an Iranian state news agency--and the Washington Times wasn't previously known for uncritically accepting claims made by Tehran.

Why might Tehran try to depict an existing American position as a major new concession? Here's a theory: If Iran's leadership thinks it may do a deal with a government it has long framed as the great Satan, it needs to tell the Iranian people that it's bringing Satan to his knees.

Interesting to see the Washington Times and Tehran for once trying to put the same spin on a story. The difference is that Tehran may be imparting this spin in order to pave the way for a deal, whereas the Times seems to be imparting it in order to sabotage a deal.

In this mission the Times will be joined by many allies on the right. So prepare yourself for warnings about how Iran is getting "the upper hand," as the Times put it, in the negotiations. If a deal starts to look likely, we may hear that Iran is "thumbing its nose" at us or that America is "capitulating" or "abjectly submitting" to Iranian demands. And let's not forget those hardy perennials, "Munich" and "appeasement."

In sum, we'll hear words and phrases known to elicit primitive impulses that short-circuit rational thought. They proved their power in the runup to the Iraq War, as many of the people who will use them this time around can personally attest.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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