CFR and WSJ Need to Fact Check With the CIA and IAEA

With the media and punditry focused on what to make of comments from retiring Mossad head Meir Dagan that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon until 2015, Der Spiegel’s interview with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano should be closely read as a reminder of what exactly the IAEA and the West publicly acknowledge that they know about Iran’s nuclear program.

Amano acknowledges that many questions remain unanswered by the Iranians about their nuclear program, but emphasizes that it is premature to conclude that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

SPIEGEL: According to the most recent estimates, Iran is only a year away from building a bomb.

Amano: I’m not so sure about that. Despite all unanswered questions, we cannot say that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Der Spiegel presses Amano on this answer but he holds fast to his position.

SPIEGEL: Because you lack the conclusive evidence, the “smoking gun?”

Amano: That’s not my choice of words. I’m talking about unanswered questions. What purpose do components for a highly explosive ignition system serve? What are neutron triggers needed for? Are there nuclear developments that suggest a military background? Iran must provide clarity on these issues. That’s the point.

The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss points to the parallels between Amano’s language and that of the CIA’s March 2010 report (PDF) on Iran’s nuclear program, which reads:

We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to produce nuclear weapons, though we do not know whether Tehran will eventually decide to produce nuclear weapons. Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.

Both Amano and the CIA’s language should be looked at closely by Iran hawks as well as those in the media who suggest that Iran’s intent to produce a nuclear weapon is a foregone conclusion. This language does not preclude such a development but, as emphasized by Amano’s list of unanswered questions, it is far too early to draw conclusions about the Iranian nuclear program.

But it doesn’t seem like the Iran hawks think much of the CIA and the IAEA’s cautious analyses.

On Friday, the Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) Elliott Abrams called on House Republicans to increase pressure on Iran to stop an Iranian “weapons program.”

They should be asking right now what more the United States and our allies can be doing to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, make our sanctions more effective, and support democratic dissidents in Iran.

Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), wrote in The Wall Street Journal Asia edition last week:

…[F]urther measures, and time for them to work, will still be needed to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

And the Journal‘s editorial board fired off an op-ed last week with a factually baseless assertion.

Since Iran announced its intention to build a nuclear bomb, it has had a friend in India.

As discussed by Ali, Iran has made no such announcement.

Both Dubowitz and Abrams have access to huge audiences (Abrams’ blog is hosted by the CFR and Dubowitz appears regularly in the Journal’s editorial pages), so it’s worth asking why prestigious institutions and newspapers, such as the Journal and CFR, permit such questionable fact-checking in their blogs and opinion pages.

Perhaps more importantly, why do platforms like CFR and the Journal give an audience to individuals–or, in the case of the Journal, an editorial board–who are blatantly overstating the case against Iran’s nuclear program?

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. RE: Elliot Abrams called on House Republicans to increase pressure on Iran to stop an Iranian “weapons program.” – Clifton
    MY COMPLAINT: I believe his name is spelled with two ‘T’s. So it should read, “Elliott Abrams, convicted of lying to Congress, called on House Republicans…”.
    MEMORY AID: Two ‘T’s (“tt”) as in urine!

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