The Price of Indifference III

Amazing, isn’t it, how much free publicity a news conference can win you, when what you say runs in near-perfect parallel with what the world’s most powerful state wants to hear, and you save its official spokespeople the trouble of having to say it themselves?

But especially when what you say happens to fit what its news media expect to hear.

Thus, to cite but four examples: Wednesday the National Council of Resistance of Iran “made dramatic new claims about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, including ongoing covert enrichment of uranium,” Knight Ridder reports. “Iran is secretly producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons at a military site in Teheran in direct breach of an agreement signed earlier this week,” according to London’s Daily Telegraph. “An Iranian opposition group alleged yesterday that Tehran had obtained weapons-grade uranium and a design for a nuclear bomb from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist,” the Financial Times reported. “An Iranian opposition group leveled startling but unconfirmed charges on Wednesday that Iran had bought blueprints for a nuclear bomb and obtained weapons-grade uranium on the black market,” said the New York Times.

Even better, then, that the NCRI’s news conference—or news conferences, to be precise, as the NCRI managed not just one but two separate news conferences Wednesday, one in Paris and one in Vienna—coincided with what otherwise would have been received as throw-away or token remarks from the American Secretary of State during a stopover in Manaus, Brazil, en route to the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sanitago.

(Quick aside. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I don’t recall having read anywhere that Washington asked the French or Austrian authorities to issue arrest warrants for Messrs. Mohaddessin and Soleimani, the principals at the NCRI’s two news conferences, given their representation of an officially designated “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” and their active promotion of its cause on sovereign French and Austrian soil, respectively.—Or did I miss something? And while we’re at it, would somebody remember to ask both Interpol—or, if they’re too busy combatting the plague of opium production flowing from Afghanistan these days, then how about the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee—whether anyone is keeping an eye on the assets of the National Council of Resistance of Iran-slash-Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization? Seems not, if the NCRI-MEK can stage simultaneous news conferences in ritzy European capitals, and even afford high-tech reconaissance imagery of sites inside Iran.)

(Another quick aside. In the photos that I’ve seen of the NCRI’s news conferences (e.g., Associated Press and Reuters), the event included a display of some meticulously-processed, upper-atmosphere and even satellite reconaissance imagery of the Iranian sites that the group alleges to be components within Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. But, friends: Those images weren’t reproduced at the local Kinkos in Paris and Vienna. You know what I mean? Nor does the NCRI count among its assets spy planes with high-resolution optics. Much less satellites. In plainer English: Wednesday’s news conferences must be presumed to have been staged in conjunction with, and expressive of, American policy towards Iran. Otherwise, we will head into whichever stage of escalation of the conflict between the Americans and Tehran comes next without fully understanding where it came from.)

Colin Powell’s remarks already have been overzealously parsed. Worse, they will continue to be, in the days prior to the November 25 Board of Governors’ meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. But what Powell actually uttered was minimalist. At most. Neither were his remarks focused nor for that matter were they very coherent. They ought to have been dismissed. Or openly debunked—the latter being the more honest way of handling them. Instead, the American and British news media used them on Wednesday and Thursday to frame the entire question of the Iranian nuclear program, and its significance to the world.

Through the present, the American and British news media have seized on two of Powell’s off-the-cuff remarks in particular (“Remarks to the Press En Route to Santiago, Chile,” Nov. 17):

* “I have seen intelligence which would corroborate what this dissident group is saying.”
* “I have seen some information that would suggest that they had been actively working on delivery systems, to deliver.”

The latter remark especially. The reporter who prompted Powell’s quip couldn’t let it drop:

QUESTION: Deliver? What deliveries?

SECRETARY POWELL: You don’t have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon.

QUESTION: But, you’re talking about missiles?

SECRETARY POWELL: I’m talking about delivery systems.

QUESTION: So, no necessarily the uranium, the bomb-grade uranium?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I’m not talking about uranium. I’m not talking about fissile material. I’m not talking about a warhead. I’m talking about what one does with a warhead. So, in other words, there is no doubt in my mind, and it is clearly straightforward, I think, from what we’ve been saying for years, that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.

Clearly, the reporter thought she was onto something. But Powell knew he had nothing to give her. Nothing real, that is. Only vague intimations and suspicions. Only “information that suggests they were working hard as to how to put the two together.” The “two” being missiles and warheads.

This is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Notice how, with regard to the Iranian nuclear program, it took the American and British media all of 72 hours to leap from Sunday’s Letter of Agreement between the E3/EU and Iran to “extend its suspension to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities,” across Wednesday’s Paris and Vienna news conferences and the American Secretary of States’s fragmentary remarks en route to Santiago, and land upon headlines proclaiming categorically that:

U.S. Asserts Iran Seeks Nuclear Missiles,” Los Angeles Times, November 18
Powell Says Iran Is Pursuing Bomb,” Washington Post, November 18
Powell Says Iran Is Making Nuclear Missiles,” The Times of London, November 19

And who knows what else. Where else. By the time the sun rises Friday morning.

In Focus : IAEA and Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency (Webpage devoted to Iran.—A strong caveat applies, however: Much of the information archived herein derives from sources with a decidedly American-hegemonic point of view. This goes for the maps, too, by the way.)

Iran ‘breaking nuclear deal with secret site’,” Robin Gedye, Daily Telegraph, November 18, 2004
Iran alleged to have obtained N-bomb plans,” Najimeh Bozorgmehr et al., Financial Times, November 18, 2004
Iran suspected of modifying missiles to carry warheads, Powell says,” Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, November 18, 2004
U.S. Asserts Iran Seeks Nuclear Missiles,” Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2004
Exiles Add to Claims on Iran Nuclear Arms,” Elaine Sciolono et al., New York Times, November 18, 2004
Powell Says Iran Is Pursuing Bomb; Evidence Cited of Effort to Adapt Missile” Robin Wright and Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, November 18, 2004

Powell says Iran is making nuclear missiles,” Richard Beeston, The Times (London), November 19, 2004

The Price of Indifference I, ZNet Blogs, November 15, 2004
The Price of Indifference II, ZNet Blogs, November 17, 2004

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