The BBC News website’s coverage of the recent framework agreement negotiated between the P5+1 and Iran continued on April 7th with an article titled “Iran nuclear deal: US there for Israel, warns Obama“. The article’s main purpose is to inform audiences of statements made by the American president in recent interviews with the New York Times (available here) and with NPR (available here). The article opens:
“President Barack Obama has moved to reassure Israel that the US remains its staunchest supporter, amid Israeli fears over last week’s outline agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.
He said Iran and the rest of the region should know that “if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there”.”
That short quote is taken from the NYT interview:
“I have to respect the fears that the Israeli people have,” he added, “and I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is expressing the deep-rooted concerns that a lot of the Israeli population feel about this, but what I can say to them is: Number one, this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, and number two, what we will be doing even as we enter into this deal is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there. And I think the combination of a diplomatic path that puts the nuclear issue to one side — while at the same time sending a clear message to the Iranians that you have to change your behavior more broadly and that we are going to protect our allies if you continue to engage in destabilizing aggressive activity — I think that’s a combination that potentially at least not only assures our friends, but starts bringing down the temperature.”
The BBC makes no attempt to clarify to readers that Israelis – having experienced four rounds of conflict initiated by Iranian-sponsored terrorist organisations on its south-western and northern borders in the past decade and still living under the threat of vast quantities of Iranian-supplied weapons – might be a little cautious with regard to that ‘we’ve got your back’ claim.
The article continues:
“But he [Obama] rejected a call by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that any deal be conditional on Iran recognising Israel.
Mr Obama said such a condition would be “a fundamental misjudgement”.
The president, speaking in an interview with National Public Radio, said that it would be akin to saying the US would not seal a deal unless the Iranian regime completely transformed.
“We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons,” he said.
“If suddenly Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France, then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.””
The transcript of the segment of the NPR interview from which those quotes are taken reads as follows:
Interviewer: “Prime Minister Netanyahu, who you mentioned, has added a demand in recent days. He said that as part of this deal when it’s finalized, Iran should recognize the state of Israel. You’re smiling as I, as I say that.
Diplomats might see that as an obviously inappropriate demand to make in this negotiation, but it sounds reasonable on its face. Many people will find that to be a reasonable. Why not do that?”
Obama: “Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy.
And I’ve been very forceful in saying that our differences with Iran don’t change if we make sure that they don’t have a nuclear weapon — they’re still going to be financing Hezbollah, they’re still supporting Assad dropping barrel bombs on children, they are still sending arms to the Houthis in Yemen that have helped destabilize the country. There are obvious differences in how we are approaching fighting ISIL in Iraq, despite the fact that there’s a common enemy there.
So there’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.
The — I want to return to this point. We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons. If suddenly Iran transformed itself into Germany or Sweden or France, there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.
So, you know, the key here is not to somehow expect that Iran changes — although it is something that may end up being an important byproduct of this deal — but rather it is to make sure that we have a verifiable deal that takes off the table what would be a game-changer for them if in fact they possess nuclear weapons.”
Later on in the BBC article, readers are told:
“Critics have accused President Obama of conceding too much ground to Iran and endangering Israel’s security.
But in an interview with the New York Times, Mr Obama firmly denied this.
“I would consider it a failure on my part, a fundamental failure of my presidency, if on my watch, or as a consequence of work that I had done, Israel was rendered more vulnerable,” he said.
Mr Obama said he recognised the concerns raised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce critic of the deal along with the president’s Republican opponents in the US Congress.
He said Israelis “have every right to be concerned about Iran”, a country that had threatened “to destroy Israel, that has denied the Holocaust, that has expressed venomous anti-Semitic ideas”.
But he insisted that the preliminary agreement with Iran – a forerunner of a comprehensive deal, due to be agreed before 30 June – was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”
What this BBC report does not do is to join the dots between Obama’s statement “[w]e want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing” and the fact that in another segment of the NPR interview which the BBC chose not to mention or quote (and the State Department later tried to clumsily walk back), Obama stated that in just over a decade, Iran’s break-out time will be negligible.
Obama: “Keep in mind, though, currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months by our intelligence estimates. So essentially, we’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year … that — that if they decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we’d have over a year to respond. And we have those assurances for at least well over a decade.
And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter, but at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves. We have much more insight into their capabilities. And the option of a future president to take action if in fact they try to obtain a nuclear weapon is undiminished.
So, it’s a hard argument to make that we’re better off right now having almost no breakout period, no insight, and letting them rush towards a bomb, than saying, over the course of 15 years, we have very clear assurances that they’re not going to do anything.
And at that, at the end of that period, maybe they’ve changed, maybe they haven’t. If they haven’t changed, we still have the options available to me — or available to a future president that I have available to me right now.”
Instead, BBC audiences are presented yet again with a short summary of the framework agreement as promoted in the US administration’s factsheet, but ignoring the fact that the account of the deal publicized by Iran is markedly different.
“Under the terms reached last Thursday, Iran must slash its stockpile of enriched uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon, and cut by more than two-thirds the number of centrifuges that could be used to make more.
In return, UN sanctions and separate measures imposed unilaterally by the US and EU will be gradually suspended as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.”
Once again, no effort is made to inform BBC audiences of criticism of the above aspects of the framework agreement or others.
Despite the BBC’s obligation to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”, its audiences are still being presented with a narrow, cherry-picked view of this topic which excludes comprehensive and serious discussion of any statements or opinions (for example this one and these) which do not conform to the US administration’s presentation of the issue.
Did the BBC News website’s reporting on the P5+1 framework agreement with Iran tell the whole story?