On Sunday former U.S. national security advisor and Iran expert Dr. Gary Sick wrote the following about U.S. government leaks to news outlets ahead of expected renewed talks between the P5+1 this month. PBS Frontline’s Tehran Bureau included his commnetary in their “Media Watch” yesterday:
“If it’s Sunday,” Columbia University scholar Gary Sick wrote in an email to Gulf 2000, a listserv he moderates, “it must be time for major U.S. government ‘leaks’ (really planted stories) about Iran. Positioning and spinning is particularly important with negotiations possibly ready to start.”
The official feed to The New York Times is in the article by David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger outlining U.S. demands in the opening round. They look very much like the proposed demands outlined by Israeli officials and Dennis Ross last week, viz. closing (and eventually dismantling) Fordow, and halting all production of and removing all 20 percent enriched uranium. The official going-in position seems to be a halt to all enrichment, but there is an ambiguous suggestion that a compromise outcome would be some level of enrichment with stringent monitoring and inspections.The leak to the Washington Post had a different theme. It suggests that U.S. intelligence — primarily drones and intercepts — is now so good that we can have considerable confidence that Iran is not now building a nuclear weapon and that we would know if and when Iran changed course and decided to race for a bomb. This complements the Times article by indicating that the United States is going into negotiations with a much better understanding of internal Iranian policy than we ever had on Iraq. “Trust us,” seems to to be the underlying message.What is missing from both stories is any indication of what Iran might expect to receive for its cooperation. The threat of crippling sanctions is mentioned in the event that Iran fails to toe the line, but there is no consideration of how sanctions might change if there was actual movement toward an agreement. The strategy is all threat and no concession. That is entirely consistent with U.S. strategy since at least the days of Bill Clinton.
Part of the negative tone in The New York Times may be the result of its good-cop-bad-cop approach to Iran reporting. Will we have a report from the alternative team on Monday giving a more nuanced and balanced interpretation of the same evidence? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Incidentally, neither The Times nor The Post, despite their varying degrees of focus on the intelligence picture, even hinted at assassinations or cyber warfare in Iran, let alone the Sy Hersh report about secret U.S. training of Iranian Mojahedin Khalgh operatives for operations inside Iran. Some things, it seems, are better off not said.