Thursday, March 22, 2007

NYT misinformation in context

Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei yesterday delivered a televised Newyear address, and according to the summary in Al-Quds al-Arabi, it included this:
In its psychological war, [the West] is trying to intimidate the authorities, and weaken Iranian solidarity. They are trying to spread fear by spreading rumors about the imposition of sanctions, and about the use of force, and they are promoting (or "feeding") divisiveness within Iraq.
On the first point, people should carefully note the New York Times piece by Elaine Sciolino on Tuesday, March 20, which cited anonymous US, European and Iranian sources to the effect Russia told Iran it would withhold fuel from the Bushehr plant unless Iran complied with UN demands about stropping uranium enrichment. The NYT trumpeted this in an editorial on Wednesday as an historic milestone in Russian behavior, but it was denied the same day by Russian foreign minister Lavrof, who said the report was "an indecent attempt to provoke an argument between us and ...Iran", and added there is no connection between fuel for Bushehr and the UN matter. And Lavrof said in the Russian parliament that his government will not support "excessive" (or "extreme") sanctions against Iran. Which does make the NYT report look less like a bona fide news report and more like part of the pattern of intimidation Khamenei was referring to. (This astute blogger smelled a rat in the NYT piece immediately, suspecting the "sources" were in the US and British delegations to the IAEA, which had been used in similar ways as "propaganda distribution points" in the runup to the 2003 invasion).

On the second point, please recall the report in a Russian paper that was picked up by the Novosti news agency, according to which the Russians had told Iran the US was going to attack its nuclear installations on April 6. A commenter here noted that the Russian paper in question is not of the highest reputation in that country, which I guess would put it about on a par with the New York Times. And certainly there are various factors which would suggest this was another part of an attempted-intimidation strategy, rather than a bona fide warning, given the timing. (US troops in Iraq are exposed to retaliation; political talks are under way in a number of forums, not just the UN; and so on).

And Khamenei mentions a third point, in connection with this, which is the accusation that the US is contributing to divisions in Iraq. In this connection, recall that a Russian military think-tank official was quoted in a Novosti interview earlier this week accusing the American special forces of fomenting Shiite-Sunni violence in Iraq. This was part of his summary of the Iraq situation on the occasion of the start of the fifth year of the Iraq war. In the context of the Khamenei speech, this is brought up as part of the pattern of threats and intimidation directed at Iran.

The Khamenei speech yesterday focused on the the need for firmness and determination in meeting whatever the West plans to do: Full military retaliation in the event of a military attack; and scrapping the international nuclear agreements if the West ignores the Iranian rights that are part of those agreements. I have focused on the specific point about a pattern of intimidation because I think it helps clear up ambiguity in recent reports, and particularly because it puts the NYT misinformation piece into the right context.

(The IRNA summary of the speech is here).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There also was a report on claiming, "Russia is pulling out its experts from the Iranian nuclear reactor site they were helping build, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday. The move reflected a growing rift between Iran and Russia that could lead to harsher U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic for its refusal to stop uranium enrichment."

Of course, the sources were, "U.S. and European officials". Could this too be part of the intimidation and misinformation?

There have been too many stories lately by questionable Western sources emphasizing "rift" between Russia and Iran.

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Runours in Busher about the Russians leaving the Reactor/building site come in bouts, and usually it has only been related to normal shift in personnel. This has at times created a tense situation in Busher. If the Russians have cut back on their work in Busher it would be quite insignificant if most of the current shift in place was not replaced immediately.

I also reacted to the NYT report. It was interesting to note than no other news agencies picked up the reports before the Russian denials came out. This leads me to speculate that the veracity of the report was in some doubt by many. The astute blogger/journo on Iran Laura Rozen at just ignored it, for instance.

4:50 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I don't think it was only the NYT. There was the March 20 AP story that said the Russians had left Bushehr, that this "reflected a growing rift...", and that this "could lead to harsher sanctions..." Funny you should mention Laura Rozen, because she highlighted that story on March 20. What she just ignored was the debunking of it.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are being careful about who is saying what and when, as well as who is reporting the retractions.

Good for Russia for identifying the erroneous information quickly in time to keep it out of most of the rest of the American press.

I don't know where we would be without both careful bloggers and wide-awake readers.

Also thanks for mentioning "Moon Over Alabama" blog. It is becoming a favorite.

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