Monday, March 17, 2014
Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Gareth Porter
By: Kourosh Ziabari
The controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program in the recent decade has been the subject of millions of statements, thousands of news stories and articles, hundreds of speeches and interviews and tens of books and films. One of the most brilliant, revealing and educative books about Iran’s standoff with the West over its civilian nuclear program has been recently published by the prominent American investigative journalist Gareth Porter.
Gareth Porter is a leading American journalist, historian, anti-war activist and correspondent of the Vietnam War. Porter’s writings have appeared on such publications as The Nation, Inter Press Service, The Huffington Post, Truthout, Al-Jazeera, Press TV, Antiwar.com and Common Dreams. Porter is the 2012 winner of Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, which is awarded annually to a journalist who exposes media propaganda.
Gareth Porter has recently published a book titled “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare” which discloses the unseen and masked truths behind the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. In this book, Porter endeavors to reveal the destructive role Israel has played in the exacerbation of Iran’s relations with the West over the former’s nuclear activities. Porter maintains that Iran’s nuclear program is completely legal and regularly inspected, abused by the United States and Israel as a pretext for pressuring Iran.
The former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles W. Freeman is one of many high-ranking diplomats and academicians who have praised Porter’s book. He writes, “Want to understand why a peaceful U.S. modus vivendi with Iran has been so elusive? Read this exceptionally timely, gripping account of the Iranian nuclear program and the diplomacy surrounding it! Porter meticulously documents both Iranian misjudgments and American and Israeli diplomatic overreach based on willful self-deception and political, bureaucratic, and budget-motivated cherry-picking of intelligence to support unfounded preconceptions.”
On the publication of Gareth Porter’s vital book on Iran’s nuclear program by the Just World Books publications, Iran Review has conducted an exclusive interview with the American journalist and has asked him some questions on the important aspects of Iran’s nuclear program and its ongoing disputes with the West, which seem to be solved gradually during the course of talks between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.)
Gareth Porter believes that although the U.S. President Barack Obama regularly talks of all options being on the table in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, his government does not have a clear understanding of what these options are: “under Bush, at least in the early period, there was an overt understanding between Israel and the top policymakers in the Bush administration that they would follow a joint strategy which was aimed at regime change, but that’s not the case with Obama. His policy is much more ambiguous and less distinct. I think he wants to resolve the issue, but he is still under the pressure from the Israeli lobby which restricts his freedom of action. He and his senior advisors are under the influence of a false narrative for so long that I don’t think they understand what the real options are.”
What follows is the text of Iran Review’s interview with Mr. Porter.
Q: Your recently published book on the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program is titled “Manufactured Crisis,” and as you may admit, Iran’s nuclear program was set in motion in 1950s by the then U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower as part of the Atoms for Peace project for helping Iran meet its growing energy demands. However, following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Americans stopped their nuclear cooperation with Iran, and since early 1990s, began intensively pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear program, while there hasn’t ever been any evidence showing Iran’s diversion to militarization of its nuclear activities. Why do you think the U.S. changed its attitude toward Iran’s nuclear program while they were the ones who started it? Was it a matter of alliance with the United States and compliance with its Middle East policies?
A: I think there are a couple of factors that are combined to influence and shape the U.S. decision-making about the Iranian nuclear program. The first factor is of course that the United States had a foreign policy by 1981-82 to support Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran. It was secretly helping to arm Saddam Hussein and supporting him in various ways. They clearly had a stake in trying to prevent Iran from prevailing in that war and I was told by the former National Security Council staff and specialists on Iran at that time under the Reagan administration that the policy was largely influenced by the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq. I think behind that, of course, there is a much more fundamental element and policy on the part of the United States of hostility toward the Islamic Revolution in Iran as a challenge to the U.S. power prestige in the Middle East, and I would also say that importantly, because of a what I would call a dirty war taking place in Lebanon in the mid-1980s where the CIA was carrying out covert operations, and at the same time, that there were Shiite militias working against the U.S. forces and CIA personnel, in particular in the Beirut area, the CIA lost a significant number of personnel in that dirty war; first there were a group killed in the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the others were kidnapped and tortured to death. That undoubtedly created a very strong desire on the part of the U.S. national security state to get back and take advantage of the war against Iran, so I think that played a role in the U.S. policy in that period.
Q: So, do you also think that the pressures being put on Iran over its nuclear activities is part of a U.S. strategy to prevent Iran from becoming a regional superpower through acquiring a nuclear capability?
A: I’m not exactly sure how you are using the term nuclear capability. I assume you mean becoming a superpower by having a nuclear program. Is that what you mean?
Q: Well, I actually mean acquiring nuclear capability will be a deterrent for Iran and it might dissipate Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East even though we know Iran’s nuclear program is solely aimed at peaceful purposes.
A: That’s a very much complicated problem to disentangle exactly what the strategic calculations are with regards to the relationship between Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s obviously possessing 300 or so nuclear weapons, and how that plays out. I don’t really think that the United States policy has been based on very finely calculated vision of how things would be in the future. As I point out in the book, the Bush administration’s policy toward Iran was one of a regime change. They really wanted to overthrow the Islamic regime, just as the previous U.S. administrations had wanted to do, going back to the Reagan administration. They believed that they had to use force, and there was no doubt about it, and I think the initial calculation of the Bush administration, which really began in 2002 and 2003, as I point out in the “Manufactured Crisis” was that the United States would be able to use the accusation of an Iranian covert nuclear weapons program as a basis for justifying a military attack on Iran to change the regime. That obviously didn’t play out as they expected. For one thing, the Bush policy changed from regime change to pressure through sanctions. But I think that was also one of their miscalculations.
I think the Obama administration policy, when it came to power in 2009 was really that they didn’t have a clear strategy toward Iran but was leaning much more toward sanctions as its primary policy rather than diplomacy as it was publicly claiming, especially at the time of the presidential elections. So, generally I think the U.S. policy has been geared to very broad, and in the case of Bush administration, militaristic objectives rather than a very carefully calculated assessment of the region.
Q: You talked about George W. Bush’s policy on Iran. Do you think that his war threats were really credible and serious as he constantly made statements on all options being on the table? He couldn’t ever realize his war threats. Did he really mean what he said that he intended to attack Iran?
A: Well, I don’t think the problem was so much George W. Bush as it was his group of neo-conservative advisors and high officials, specifically the Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior Middle East advisor David Wurmser, as well as John Bolton, the then under-secretary of state in charge of policy toward Iran and the main administration’s policymaker on Iran as well as weapons of mass destruction; we know that Bolton cooperated with the Israeli government closely. He traveled to Israel frequently; he met in some cases with the Mossad chief in 2003, which were not approved by the State Department, and the circumstantial evidence strongly indicate that the manufactured crisis was really planned by Bolton in conjunction with the Israelis. They together mapped out a plan that they expected to lay the groundwork for what they believed would be ultimately the military option on Iran. So, I think we are talking about a plan for striking Iran that was planned by the Israelis and their strongest supporters and allies in the Bush administration.
Q: In your recent book, you imply that the IAEA has been somehow deceived by the reports provided to it by the Western governments, which usually came out from Israel, that there has been a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program prior to 2003. This is while the IAEA inspectors traveled to Iran and investigated the country’s nuclear facilities in the past decade tens of times. Why is it that the IAEA has been influenced by the Israeli claims while it couldn’t present any evidence to substantiate the claims?
A: The answer to the question is that the safeguards department of the IAEA was led by two individuals during that crucial period when the events took place, who were extremely anti-Iran and pro-Israel, worked closely with the Israelis and were happy to take intelligence from the Mossad and were working hand in glove with the Bush administration and Israel. They were [Pierre] Goldschmidt and [Olli] Heinonen; the two directors of the safeguards department of the IAEA at that period; Goldschmidt from 2003 to 2005 and then Heinonen from 2005 to 2011, and in both cases, it’s clear that they were both much at odds with the view of the Director General of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei and other high officials of the IAEA.
In fact, I recently had an interview with the former senior official of the agency who further elaborated on those differences and pointed out that outside the safeguards department, senior officials were not at all convinced by these documents, including the laptop documents which the IAEA called the alleged studies, and the green salt papers, believing that they were probably fabricated, and they suspected Israel all long as the logical candidate. So I think that we have to differentiate within the IAEA between the leadership of the safeguards department who were working closely with the United States and Israel on one hand, and the other senior officials of the agency including of course ElBaradei himself, who were extremely skeptical of that document. I think that the interesting questions is, why ElBaradei thought that he could not prevent particularly since 2008 onward from publishing a series of reports that leaned very strongly toward the U.S.-Israeli position, which other senior IAEA officials including ElBaradei didn’t agree with. I think that the answer is that the IAEA was under very great pressures by the United States and the Europeans, including enormous pressures on ElBaradei to make compromises with regards to their decisions.