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Roger L. Simon

Fact-checking the New York Times on Iran and Nukes

October 25th, 2009 - 8:20 pm

Fact-checking the New York Times is always fun for two reasons: 1 – they’re so pretentious about being the “newspaper of record” and 2 – it’s so easy to do.

Tonight, I barely started the paper’s latest “authoritative” report Both Iran and West Fear a Trap on Uranium Deal when I came to the following paragraph: “In Washington, the concern is precisely the reverse. Here, even some of President Obama’s aides are wary that Iran is setting a trap, trying to turn the administration’s signature offer of engagement into a process of endless negotiations. They are acutely aware of the fact that the clock is ticking: While talks continue, Iran is steadily enriching more uranium, the fuel it would need if it ever decided to sprint for the bomb, much as Israel and India did 30 years ago, followed by Pakistan and North Korea.”

Thirty years? Oops. As it happens I had been doing a little routine research – about thirty minutes worth – just the other day for a blog post I was contemplating writing on the subject and (hello fact-checkers wherever you are!) the NYT seems to have gotten its chronology wrong. India set off its first self-described “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974, thirty-five years ago. And the CIA reported Israel had nuclear weapons in 1968, fully forty-one years ago. (My suspicion is they had them earlier.)

So, in general, more like forty years than the thirty reported by the “newspaper of record.” A distinction without a difference? Besides the obvious that this discrepancy makes you question The Times’ other facts when they play fast and loose with something so simply ascertained – yes, I am aware that these dates may not be precise, but they seem vastly more accurate than the NYT’s – there is a more important point. The larger the number of years these countries have had nuclear weapons, the older and, probably, more common the technology. Pakistan, the putative home of the Islamic bomb with AQ Khan, had its first “nuclear explosion” in 1987 – twenty-two years ago. Khan apparently gave his nuclear knowledge to North Korea. Did he give – willingly or not – similar knowledge to the mullahs?

We don’t know. But we do know this is old technology, more than forty years old for the Israelis and gaining on seventy (!) for the US. Is there something wrong with the Iranians that they don’t know all about this by now? Is it possible that they have had a bomb for some time without letting anybody know, just as the Israelis apparently were able to do? We don’t know – and therein lies the subtext of the Times piece. They are – no surprise here – worried for their man:

But few in the White House doubt how the narrative will be written if the Iranians actually gain a weapons ability on Mr. Obama’s watch. That is why Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as a presidential candidate dismissed Mr. Obama’s engagement policy with Iran as naïve, last week warned anew that “the process of engagement cannot be open-ended.” The strategy behind the negotiations that unfolded in Vienna last week was pretty straightforward. If Iran was truly interested in peaceful uses for its nuclear fuel, it should accept the West’s help in using its own stockpile to fuel the reactor in Tehran that makes medical isotopes. If they rejected the deal, it should be easier, in theory, to get Russia and China to join sanctions.

In theory indeed. No one has yet explained to me successfully why Russia and China would really want to help us with the Iranians. But if the New York Times says it’s possible, it must be, n’est-ce pas?

ADDENDUM: One of the other concepts the NYT is trying to sell us in the above linked Iran update is that there is serious disagreement on the nuclear issue among the Iranian ruling class. I doubt this. I think they are just playing for time – and that’s it. Nuclear weapons are, alas, one thing on which all the mullah/thugs agree. This evening we have this report from the regime’s PressTV: Iran waiting for a change in US policy:VP. Uh-huh. Right. More stalling. More whirling centrifuges. Obama’s talk-talk policy seems worthless and toothless to me.

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