The media misleads the public on Iran (Updated)


The headlines today are wrong, and misleading:

New York Times: Iran Announces New Breach of Nuclear Deal Limits, and Threatens Further Violations

Washington Post: Iran set to breach limit on enriched uranium within ‘hours’

Politico: Tehran: Iran set to breach nuclear deal

Iran cannot “breach” an agreement already materially breached by the Trump administration. Any first year law student is expected to learn the “prior material breach” rule, Am Jur 2d – Contracts § 669 (footnotes omitted):

A party who has brought about a breach of contract may not insist upon its performance, and thus, a breach of contract caused solely by one party’s behavior is generally excused as to the other party. However, a party is not automatically excused from performing in the future every time the other party breaches. Only where one party substantially [materially] breaches a contract does the other party to it have a defense and an excuse for nonperformance.

On May 8, 2018, the United States “quit” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aka the Iran Agreement, unilaterally breaching the agreement. Trump withdraws from Iran nuclear deal, isolating him further from world:

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he is quitting the Iran nuclear deal, pitting him against the United States’ closest allies and leaving the future of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in question.

“It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Room. “The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing we know exactly what will happen.”

In announcing his long-telegraphed decision, Trump said he would initiate new sanctions on the regime, crippling the touchstone agreement negotiated by his predecessor. Trump said any country that helps Iran obtain nuclear weapons would also be “strongly sanctioned.”

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Trump’s decision could have explosive consequences, straining longstanding US alliances, disrupting oil markets and boosting tensions in the Middle East, even if the US reversal doesn’t lead Iran to restart its atomic program.

While Trump supporters praised the move, analysts and critics said it undermines Washington’s credibility in future negotiations and potentially empowers the very hardliners in Iran that Trump vilified in his remarks.

It also further isolates Trump on the global stage, where he has angered even the staunchest US allies by reneging on US commitments to the Paris climate accord and pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

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Some of the US’ closest allies, the UK, France and Germany, issued a statement expressing “regret and concern” about the decision, emphasizing Iran’s compliance with the deal and their “continuing commitment” to the Joint Commission Plan of Action, as the deal is formally known.

Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, said he had ordered the country’s atomic industry to be ready to restart industrial uranium enrichment, while the country’s foreign minister said he would work with the pact’s remaining partners — France, the UK, Germany, China and Russia — to see whether they could ensure “full benefits for Iran. Outcome will determine our response,” Javad Zarif tweeted.

Iran’s negotiations with the other members of the “P5+1” to the Iran Agreement (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany) to maintain the agreement in force, despite the U.S. breach, have not succeeded because of pressure from the Trump administration. Iran chides EU for failing to stand up to US ‘bullying’:

Iran has lashed out at its European partners in the faltering nuclear deal on Thursday, accusing them of kowtowing to US pressure after Washington imposed more severe sanctions.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the United States had “bullied” European Union nations and he chided them for not living up to their obligations under the landmark 2015 agreement, which curbed Tehran’s nuclear development in return for relief from hard-hitting sanctions.

Earlier on Thursday, the EU rejected Iran’s 60-day “ultimatum” to protect its oil and banking sectors from American sanctions. Tehran said a day earlier it would partially withdraw from aspects of the landmark accord – known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – if EU nations failed to do so.

“EU statement today is why JCPOA is where it is: the US has bullied Europe – and rest of world – for a year and EU can only express “regret“. Instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord, EU should uphold obligations – including normalization of economic ties,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Iran’s 60-day ‘ultimatum” for the “P5+1” to enforce the Iran Agreement has expired. There is a “prior material breach” of the agreement by the “P5+1,” in particular, unilaterally by the U.S. Iran’s continued performance under the agreement is excused by that “prior material breach.”

So if the media wants to assign fault here, assign fault where it rightfully belongs: Donald Trump and his administration.

As Politico reports, Iran is using the Iran Agreement as leverage to try to save the agreement, not to violate it. Iran is the one party that actually wants to enforce the agreement:

Iran announced on Sunday it would start enriching uranium beyond limits set in the 2015 nuclear deal between the country and global powers.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, told reporters at a press conference that Iran would start enriching uranium for its Bushehr power plant above a concentration of 3.67 percent. He also said the country would keep reducing its commitment to the Iran nuclear deal every 60 days, according to the BBC.

This is known as “ratcheting,” the contract-associated rights of the involved parties are adjusted according to an agreed upon formula upon completion of a part or stage of the contract. It is an incentive for contract performance, not a breach.

The announcement marks the latest escalation between Tehran and the signatories of the 2015 deal — China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K.

The U.S. pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and increased economic pressure on Tehran through sanctions. Iranian leaders have sought support from the EU and other countries to salvage the deal, while taking measures to upgrade its nuclear capabilities to increase diplomatic pressure.

Tehran had said in May that it would increase its production of enriched uranium. It has since breached the amount of enriched uranium — which can be used to make fuel for reactors as well as nuclear weapons — it was allowed to stockpile under the terms of the deal, but strongly denies it wants to build nuclear weapons.

A spokesman for the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency said the agency was aware of the announcement and its inspectors “will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify” Tehran’s breach of the limit, Reuters reported.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on the phone Saturday, calling on European countries to increase their efforts to save the diplomatic truce.

Macron said he would seek to relaunch a dialogue between Iran, Europe and other stakeholders in the deal before July 15, the Elysée said in a press statement after the call.

The Iran Agreement is not yet dead, it will depend upon what the “P5+1” members to the agreement can get from an openly hostile Trump administration that gives all the appearances of preferring a war with Iran, pushed by Neocon war hawks within the administration like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Trump allies like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia.

UPDATE: National security reporter Ben Armbruster writes at The Lobe Log, Media Falsely Portrays Iran’s Nuclear Deal Breach As Dash To Bomb:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the UN nuclear watchdog tasked with vigorously monitoring Iran’s nuclear program under the 2015 accord—confirmed this week that Iran exceeded the limit on its supply of low-enriched uranium (LEU). Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, reporting from many in the media on this development wasn’t great. Reporters and commentators portrayed Iran, not Donald Trump, as the primary provocateur, with many going so far as to claim, without any evidence whatsoever, that Iran is now racing to build a nuclear weapon.

One goal of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) was to stretch the timeline to one year in terms of how long it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium for one bomb. To achieve that outcome, the United States, the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia, and Iran agreed that Tehran could continue enriching uranium for civilian energy purposes but also to cap the amount of LEU it could have on hand at any one time to about 660 pounds. Before the agreement, and ostensibly under the untenable George W. Bush-era policy of “zero enrichment,” Iran had amassed around 10,000 pounds of LEU, which if further refined, could be transformed into fuel for nuclear weapons. After the JCPOA’s implementation, Iran shipped out 98 percent of its LEU stockpile and verifiably maintained, until this week, the 660-pound cap, even after Trump last year unilaterally reimposed sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal.

And the reason Iran surpassed the cap? Back in May, as part of its unprovoked “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the Trump administration revoked sanctions waivers allowing Iran to ship out any excess LEU it produces beyond the 660-pound cap. That left Iran with a choice: bow to Trump’s gratuitous demands even though Iran was adhering to the deal or carry on enriching uranium as allowed under the JCPOA.

Iran chose the latter course, in a move that experts say is actually “a calculated effort to get European leaders to reinforce the nuclear deal and halt the drift toward war.” Experts also say that breaching the cap, for now, “does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.” But that’s very far from how some in the U.S. mainstream media portrayed it.

Hours after the news broke, CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted that Iran surpassing the 660-pound LEU stockpile limit “appears to be the first violation of the terms of the JCPOA following the US withdrawal from the deal last year.” This is completely false. Donald Trump first violated the terms of the JCPOA in November 2018 when he reimposed all economic sanctions on Iran without cause. Trump set this JCPOA-violation crisis in motion, not Iran.

In another example, editors at The New York Times headlined an opinion piece responding to the news: “Iran Is Rushing to Build a Nuclear Weapon—and Trump Can’t Stop It.”

There is no evidence that Iran is rushing to build a nuclear weapon. In fact, U.S. intelligence has concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program some time between 2002 and 2004.

The text of the Times piece argued, somewhat controversially, that given everything that Iran has endured from the United States, Iran probably should build a nuclear weapon to deter further American right-wing aggression. But the piece never presented any evidence that Iran, based on the latest news of breaching the LEU cap, is dashing toward a bomb. And its author, an American professor of political science at the University of Chicago, isn’t involved in the Iranian leadership’s decision-making processes. He is stating what he believes Iran should do, not what Iran is actually doing or plans to do.

Similarly, but perhaps less surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal editorial board referred to the news as a “nuclear breakout,” a term that is used to describe an actual move toward building nuclear weapons, which of course Iran is not doing.

Perhaps the most egregious reporting on Iran surpassing the LEU cap came in a piece from the seemingly left-leaning news outlet Vox. The original version of the story falsely claimed that Iran “vows to increase enrichment to weapons-grade level by July 7.” Although Iran has gotten close, it has actually never enriched uranium to weapons-grade levels, and its leaders have made no such vow. Vox corrected that assertion, but the entire piece, entitled “Why Iran just violated part of the 2015 nuclear deal,” never once mentioned the actual reason Iran violated the deal, namely that Trump reimposed sanctions and thereby prevented Iran from shipping out its stockpiled LEU.

These are just a few examples of how the media has underserved the American public on the recent Trump-induced crisis with Iran. And it’s reminiscent of how the mainstream U.S. media handled the Bush administration’s march to war in Iraq. At that time, the media often relayed false or misleading administration claims at face value with little to no scrutiny and did the White House’s bidding by framing the issue on its own aggressive terms, which in turn helped produce public opinion supportive of military action. This same dynamic appears to be at play today.

The truth is that Donald Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are responsible for the current crisis with Iran. They established a policy of confrontation, trashed the nuclear agreement (which is so far working to block Iran from building a bomb), and created the conditions that make another catastrophic war in the Middle East more likely. The U.S. media has to do better at holding them to account. The stakes are too high.