The BBC spreads untruths about Iran’s nuclear activities

By David Morrison (Spin Watch)

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The BBC has an outstanding record of misrepresenting the facts about Iran’s nuclear activities.  The most egregious example of this was the ‘File on 4’ programme ‘Iran’s Nuclear Standoff’ broadcast on Radio 4 on 28 May 2013.  This programme performed the remarkable trick of purporting to examine the latest intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities, while uttering not a word about the publicly available assessments of US intelligence on the matter.

The misrepresentation continues.

Frank Gardiner on ‘This Week

On BBC1’s ‘This Week’ on 26 September 2013, Frank Gardiner, the BBC Security Correspondent, said the following:

‘America and many other countries rather suspect that Iran is secretly building a nuclear bomb.’

That statement is simply untrue.  It is in flat contradiction with, for example, remarks by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on NBC’s Meet The Press on 3 February 2013:

What I’ve said [in the past], and I will say today, is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.  They’re developing and enriching uranium. They continue to do that.

Leon Panetta’s remarks are in conformity with the publicly available assessments of US intelligence, which in a National Intelligence Estimate in November 2007 expressed the opinion that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and hadn’t restarted it since.   Year after year since then, the US Director of National Intelligence has reported to committees of Congress the assessment that Iran has not made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, most recently, to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 18 April 2013.

As for Frank Gardiner’s assertion that “many other countries” share America’s suspicions that “Iran is secretly building a nuclear bomb”, here’s what Sergey Lavrov had to say about the issue in an interview with RT on 8 October 2013:

As for the statements regarding the Iranians playing another game and trying to dupe people, I haven’t seen any confirmation by any intelligence – be it Russian, be it European, be it the United States, be it Mossad, which would categorically say that the Iranian leadership has taken a political decision to have a military nuclear program. No intelligence agency on earth was able so far to make this conclusion. And we spoke to our American colleagues just recently. They agreed that Iran hasn’t taken a political decision to go military in its nuclear program and therefore we all must avoid statements, which would just antagonize the parties to these negotiations and concentrate on a chance which we certainly have now.

BBC website

This misrepresentation is all over the BBC website as well.  A Q&A on what is termed the “Iran nuclear crisis” begins by posing the question “Why is there a crisis?” and responds:

In short, because world powers suspect Iran is not being honest about its nuclear programme and is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

 Other examples of this misrepresentation on the BBC website are:

(1) Israel PM Netanyahu flies to US to counter Iran ‘sweet talk’ (29 September 2013), which says:

Israel and the West suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

 (2) Iran parliament denies ‘uranium surplus’ report (9 October 2013), which says:

The West suspects Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The Q&A mentions the November 2007 NIE finding that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.  However, it doesn’t mention that year after year since then, the US Director of National Intelligence has reported to committees of Congress the assessment that Iran has not made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon.  Could it be that the BBC is unaware of this vital piece of information which is only a Google search away?

More Frank Gardiner on ‘This Week

On ‘This Week’ Frank Gardiner also said:

Let us take them at their word and say they’re not producing a bomb.  Why do they need to enrich uranium so far beyond at which it’s useful for civil purposes?

 This is also untrue: Iran is not enriching uranium “far beyond at which it’s useful for civil purposes”.

Iran is enriching uranium up to 5%U-235 and 20% U-235, and no higher.  The former is appropriate for power reactors.  The latter is to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which was supplied by the US in 1967 and is used to produce medical isotopes.  See, for example, the latest IAEA report dated 28 August 2013, which states:

TRR is a 5 MW reactor which operates with 20% U-235 enriched fuel and is used for the irradiation of different types of targets and for research and training purposes. (Footnote 34)

Frank Gardiner continued:

The proof is going to be whether they are prepared to do a deal and absolutely open up their facilities to the IAEA.

This is misleading implying as it does that Iran’s nuclear facilities are not open to the IAEA already.

The facts are that Iran has declared to the IAEA 17 nuclear facilities (and 9 other locations where nuclear material is customarily used), that all of them are open to IAEA inspection in accordance with Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA, that all of them are operating according to the relevant design specifications provided to the IAEA, and, most important of all, that the IAEA has never detected any diversion of nuclear material from these nuclear facilities for possible military use elsewhere.

A tiny pat on the back for the ‘Today’ programme

And finally a tiny pat on the back for the BBC Today programme.   At least twice in recent months Israeli spokesmen being interviewed about Iran’s nuclear activities have been asked to explain why Israel insists that Iran can’t have nuclear weapons when Israel itself has lots of them.  Their answers were not impressive: even the great Mark Regev floundered.

Credit is due to Jack Straw for this development.  He brought up the issue when he was interviewed by John Humphrys with Dore Gold (a former Israeli ambassador to the UN) on 14 June 2013, the day of the Iranian presidential election.  Here’s an extract from the conversation (the whole interview is available online):

JS: Well, hang on a second, Israel has a most extensive nuclear weapons capability, it has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians and it’s not going to use nuclear weapons for that but it has a very extensive nuclear weapons programme, and along with India and Pakistan are the three countries in the world, plus North Korea more recently, which have refused any kind of International supervision of their nuclear programme.

JH: Well let me put that to Dr Gold; you can’t argue with that Dr Gold?

DG: Well we can have a whole debate on Israel in a separate programme.

JH: Well it’s entirely relevant isn’t it? The fact is you’re saying they want nuclear weapons; the fact is you have nuclear weapons.

DG: Look, Israel has made statements in the past. Israeli ambassadors to the UN like myself have said that Israel won’t be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

JS: You’ve got nuclear weapons.

JH: You’ve got them.

JS: You’ve got them. Everyone knows that.

DG: We have a very clear stand, but we’re not the issue.

JS: No, no, come on, you have nuclear weapons, let’s be clear about this.

In the second instance, John Humphrys brought the matter up with normally unflappable Mark Regev:

JH: In other words, they’re doing those things that Israel itself has done because Israel itself has nuclear weapons.

MR: The issue we’re talking about is Iran and its nuclear weapons …

JH:  Is it irrelevant that Israel has nuclear weapons?  You’re telling Iran that it can’t have nuclear weapons while you yourselves have nuclear weapons.

MR:  I think the issue here is clear.  The issue before the international community is the nuclear programme of Iran, which is an aggressive nuclear programme.  I mean, they say it’s for peaceful purposes and yet they’ve invested billions in underground fortified nuclear bunkers and in intercontinental missiles.  To believe that their nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes is simply ludicrous.  This is the country that has the second largest energy oil capabilities of any Middle Eastern country.  And so it’s clear that their nuclear programme is for non-benign reasons, that they have aggressive intentions and we have to make sure that through this campaign of smiling in New York that they don’t manage to pull a North Korea.

JH:  What’s the difference between an aggressive nuclear bomb and, I don’t know, a passive nuclear bomb?

MR:  I think the trouble with Iran is the nature of the regime.

Iran replies to Netanyahu

Iran exercised its right of reply to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the UN General Assembly on 1 October 2013.  Speaking for Iran, its deputy ambassador to the UN, Khodadad Seifi, said of Netanyahu’s speech:

He talked a lot about WMDs in the Middle East, without mentioning that Israel is the only one in the region that possesses all types of WMDs but is not a party to any of the treaties banning them.

Yes, Israel isn’t a party to the NPT, nor to the Biological Weapons Convention, nor to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  It certainly has nuclear weapons and probably has biological and chemical weapons (see, for example, ‘Israel’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview’ by Professor Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies).

By contrast, Iran possesses neither nuclear, nor biological, nor chemical weapons and is a party to NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Dare I suggest that the BBC should bring these facts to its listeners’ attention, instead of spreading untruths about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

See also David Morrison’s article with Peter Oborne ‘Does the BBC not trust US intelligence on Iran?’

David MorrisonDavid Morrison has written widely on the Middle East including two highly regarded pamphlets – ‘Iraq: Lies, half-truths & omissions’ and ‘Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament’ – on the deception perpetrated by the British government to induce the British public to support military action against Iraq. He is co-author with Peter Oborne of A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran, published in 2013.


See also ITN’s John Ray and Mark Austin

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