Iran’s New Nuclear Site: Much Ado About Nothing

President Barack Obama condemned Iran's newly declared nuclear facility flanked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Gerald Herbert / AP)
President Barack Obama condemned Iran over its newly declared nuclear facility flanked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Gerald Herbert / AP)

The politicians, pundits, and intelligentsia are up in arms about the revelation that Iran has been developing a new nuclear facility that will house centrifuges to enrich uranium. A look at why Iran is regarded as deserving condemnation over this reveals quite a bit about the intellectual culture of political commentary in the U.S.

The Obama administration announced that U.S. intelligence had been monitoring the site for several years, reportedly since 2006. The announcement was that Iran had a secret site in violation of its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), and that the site was intended to be used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Media commentary has strayed little from this basic formulation.

The timing of the announcement was no great mystery. It came four days after Iran had formally declared the site to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in commitment to its obligations. In other words, it was no longer a secret at the time the U.S. declared the “secret” site. But the adjective or an equivalent like “clandestine” has stuck.

U.S. pronouncements that it had known of the facility for years should have come as no surprise. If the U.S. actually first learned of it when Iran declared the site to the IAEA, it would not want to look as though it had been caught off guard. This story is also useful because it allows the U.S. to argue that Iran only declared the site because it learned that the U.S. knew about it, rather than out of good faith and commitment to its obligations under the NPT.

The story that the U.S. has known about it is likely enough. This would mean the intelligence community must have then taken the site’s existence into consideration when it produced the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran at the time had no nuclear weapons program, an assessment U.S. intelligence still stands by.  In other words, if the declarations of foreknowledge are true, the U.S. intelligence community doesn’t judge the facility to be part of a nuclear weapons program. This minor problem with the claim that the site was intended as part of a weapons program is easily enough glossed over, though.

The accusations that the site was a violation of Iran’s legal obligation were likewise no great surprise. At least one analysis of the situation (James M. Acton at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) has pointed out that Iran is only required under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA to declare the site at least 6 months before uranium is introduced into it (the IAEA has announced that Iran has said this has not yet occurred, which is plausible enough, given that the site is still under construction). This fact was used to show how “unambiguous” it was that, as the title tells us, “Iran Violated International Obligations on Qom Facility”. It is “clear”, Acton tells us, that Iran did not declare it soon enough to meet its legal obligations. In short, we may presume either that Iran will be guilty of introducing uranium into the site within six months or that Iran would have been guilty of doing so if only reality hadn’t taken this course, which is the same thing as saying that Iran is already guilty of doing so.

The general argument follows logic of a similar nature. As noted, one assumption taken on faith is that Iran only declared the site because its hand was forced. Iran would have kept the site a secret if reality hadn’t taken its present course. Since this is hypothetically true, simply because it’s declared to be so, it’s as good as if it were actually true; which is, of course, impossible to either prove or disprove. But no evidence is required; it’s enough merely to speculate and for media commentators to relay the hypothetical as fact.

Other syllogisms employed by pundits follow suit. The reason Iran would have kept the site a secret, of course, is because it is intended to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. And we know Iran intended to make a bomb because we know it would have kept the site secret if only it hadn’t declared the site to the IAEA, and we know the only reason to keep the site secret would be to produce a bomb. And so on.

There is pretty much a consensus among analysts that if Iran were to go ahead and produce a nuclear weapon, it would have to first kick out the IAEA to avoid detection, thus projecting their intentions and rendering the action moot anyways. But we’re supposed to believe this was no more an impediment to Iran’s lust for nukes than the watchful eye of U.S. spy satellites that it knows are tracking every inch of the country.

There is a parallel to the revised argument for the invasion of Iraq that although the country had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it was enough that Saddam intended to develop them. This is a fact because the U.S. government declared it to be true after first having declared it to be true that Iraq actually had WMD, and we know that we can trust the government.

Similarly, Iran must be condemned because it had intended to make a nuclear bomb, which we know because it had kept the existence of its new uranium enrichment facility undeclared until it didn’t. And we know Iran wouldn’t have declared its existence if it hadn’t known that the U.S. knew about it, which is how we know that Iran knew that the U.S. knew, and which proves that Iran had intended to use the site to make a bomb. We know all of this simply as a matter of faith, of course.

There are other parallels. The absence of evidence for WMD prior to the invasion of Iraq was proof that Saddam was hiding them, just as Iran’s having met the requirement of its safeguards agreement to declare the site is proof that it has been acting in bad faith.

Also a demonstration of Iran’s bad faith is the fact that the site was a secret before it wasn’t, the fact that Iran met its obligation under the NPT notwithstanding. Meeting its obligations to the IAEA are not evidence of good faith on Iran’s part, but rather clearly demonstrate how evil Iran’s intentions are, and so forth.

Of course, now that the site is no longer a secret, it will do Iran little good towards making a bomb, unless it wants to openly flaunt the NPT and thereby invite military attack from the U.S. or Israel. Of course, if Iran had truly intended to keep this secret, it most likely, instead of making the self-defeating declaration to the IAEA and thereby sacrificing the supposed purpose of all their efforts, would simply have tried to deny that the site was related to its nuclear program.

But such observations are just minor obstacles for the U.S. media. They are easily enough put out of mind, no matter how obvious or elementary. Thus, the fact that the U.S. warning to Iran to come clean about its nuclear program was elicited by the act of Iran coming clean about its nuclear program elicits no comment in the media.

This kind of analysis is taken quite seriously among U.S. commentators, which is in itself a powerful statement about the commitment of the American intelligentsia to the state religion and faithfulness to its high priests in Washington. It serves as a lesson the rest of the world surely cannot have failed to comprehend, even if its outrageous  irrationality manages to escape most American observers.

Read the 1st chapter of Obstacle to Peace for free!

Jeremy R. Hammond

Jeremy R. Hammond is an award-winning political analyst, editor and publisher of Foreign Policy Journal, and author. His new book is Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Read the first chapter FREE at! 

Comments are encouraged, but please respect the rules. Click here for terms of use.

  • John Lowell

    What could be clearer than the fact that the greatest threat to world peace today comes from the United States in its assigned role as Stephin Fetchit for the Israel Lobby and puppet master of the NATO nations. The posturing here is absolutely outrageous but entirely expected from the kind of filth that whore themselves out to AIPAC, the arms, drug, and financial lobbies. Some links offering further quality commentary on this question:

  • Great post Jeremy. No matter how clean the Iranians come, like the Iraqis did 6 years ago, the US-Israeli alliance will not stop from attacking this oil rich country on the pretext of making nuclear bombs and exporting terrorism. I’m 101% sure that even if Iran abandons its nuclear programme (sic) there are already many reasons in Tel Aviv’s sleeves to order Washington to invade the country on its behalf.

    Just makes me wonder if Ahmedinezhad & company is doing all this to shore up their damaged public support?

    • Moign,

      I think your correct about Ahmandinejad using this to distract people away from the issue. I think he has correctly surmized that the US is not capable economically or politically of engaging in another war. Worst case scenario in his mind is a military strike which if it happens he can use to crush the reform movement. Sort of sad because it is a lose lose for the great Iranian people looking to throw of the chains of political Islam.

  • Eric Pottenger


    How do you figure the relationship between the high-profile UN conference being held at precisely the same time as this new, breaking evidence about Iran’s supposed nuclear violations? Do you figure it a coincidence? And what a coincidence it was! Attention was focused on the issue of “nuclear disarmament” at such a fortuitous time.

    I watched many of the UN speeches on CSPAN last Friday. I kept thinking to myself, boy is this ever the “obama effect”! Boy is Iran ever screwed! Because now, world leaders can fly back to their countries with fresh denounciations, fresh accusations–possibly leading to war (at the very least weakening their country with sanctions)–and most of them are none the wiser. As you suggest in the article, the press fails to exhibit the slightest integrity…opinions formed by connecting words, building realities which simply don’t exist. They cannot exist. But we make them exist. We make them exist by not asking the question; by not reading history; by not connecting functionality to the thing that exists.

    hey, I had a question about a previous article you wrote about the Iranian election, about the nature of U.S. involvement. It seems to me that Bush’s ’06 authorization of the $75 million to finance “democracy promotion” in Iran was too public to be used for anything other than forcing the Iranian regime to act more repressively toward their civic groups. What do think about this position? What I mean to say is that, the U.S. involvement in the election could exist for no other reason than to force a government crackdown, eroding the regime from within. Of course another complimentary function of the U.S. sponsoring election unrest would be that it actually feeds into the public image problem of Iran viz. the Western world. Which continues to justify the sanctions. As do these “secret” nuclear facility denounciations.

    Because, after all, these global leaders do have to maintain the appearance of fairness, only punishing other countries that pose the likelihood of dangers, etc. As we have witnessed, the media can manufacture fictions by their intentionally-reckless word constructions, by the questions they do not ask, by the assumptions made into fact, repeating them over and over and over again. But it helps to have pictures of state police clubbing citizens, regardless of the cause and effect relationships. Substance isn’t important. It’s image that changes history.

    Thanks for your report.

    • It seems to me that Bush’s ‘06 authorization of the $75 million to finance “democracy promotion” in Iran was too public to be used for anything other than forcing the Iranian regime to act more repressively toward their civic groups. What do think about this position?

      A lot of people, including Iranian dissident and opposition organizations, agree with you. This is why there was a lot of pressure for the “democracy fund” to be removed from the overt agenda. Funding continued, but in a less in-your-face manner. Still overt, such as USAID and NED funding, but without an official U.S. declaration attached saying “We want regime change!” That purpose, of course, also remains, they just aren’t declaring it from the hilltops anymore.

  • Eric Pottenger

    One more thing:

    Did you read about the secret trip by Netanyahu to Russia two weeks ago? And do you read about the subsequent changing of the official Russian toward sanctions against Iran? And did you read about the retraction of the missile shield plans in Poland and Czech Republic? Each of these “events” also happened just prior to the UN conference and the G20 summit; just prior to this “secret” nuclear facility that the U.S. already knew about.

    I haven’t read one probing journalistic take on the coincidental relationship between these events. Are they connected? If so, how are they connected?

    This reminds me of what Tom Woods said recently as he was testifying before the House Financial Services Committee on the side of greater transparency for the Federal Reserve (H.R. 1207). To paraphrase, Mr. Woods said that he had no clear knowledge as to WHAT the Fed may be hiding, as evidenced by their strenuous opposition to the bill. He said that he had plenty of speculations, which he chose to not utter before the hearing. But the important point, he said, is that H.R. 1207 will answer many of these questions. We won’t have to speculate as to what motivates “this” or “that” particular policy decision. With greater transparency, we will have the ability to find out.

    Such is the case with speculation about Iran. What is the game plan of the United States and Europe? We can speculate. We can base our speculations upon logic, upon history, upon our understanding of power, etc. But truly we can never know. But I would like your opinion either way. Do you see these events as sharing strong, perhaps causal relationships?

    • I haven’t read one probing journalistic take on the coincidental relationship between these events. Are they connected? If so, how are they connected?

      The missile shield plan was “scrapped” (actually, Obama announced a new-improved version would continue) in part as a concession to Russia with the hopes of getting Russia to play ball with the U.S. on Iran and the move for “crippling sanctions”. This has actually been pointed out by the mainstream media quite candidly. Israel’s diplomatic front with Russia no doubt is intended to serve the same purpose, although I don’t know what Israel expects it can offer in return for Russia’s cooperation in the U.N. Security Council.

  • Eric Pottenger

    As far as candid mainstream media coverage, you must be referring exclusively to the Israeli/Russian diplomatic front–correct me if I’m wrong.

    When I suggested that I hadn’t read one probing account, what I mean to suggest is that I would like a good journalist address the throbbing coincidence–finding a “secret” nuclear facility with all these other aforementioned events taking place: the secret meeting, the missile shield, the UN security council meeting…add these to the notion that (and I’m taking this from the Brookings report issued last June) the US/Israel strategy with Iran was set to emerge September/October anyway. This seems like an awful lot of coincidence to me. If it is a coincidence, fine, let’s talk about what makes it a coincidence. If it’s not, let’s talk about that instead. But either way, my gut feeling tells me that these relationships need to be analyzed with some intelligence. By an honest journalist (or journalists) that have a far more nuanced understanding of the gears and levers of foreign policy than myself.

    Sanctions or air strikes? Either one of these brutal policy options is presently founded upon a dubious cover story of wrongdoing.

    Is it dubious? You have addressed one angle of this ‘dubiousness’ in your article, but it seems there are many others.

    If journalists have addressed these coincidences, please send me some links. I would be curious to read what others think.

    • As far as candid mainstream media coverage, you must be referring exclusively to the Israeli/Russian diplomatic front–correct me if I’m wrong.

      No, actually, I meant that one possible outcome of the move to scrap the missile defense plan might be greater Russian willingness to tow the U.S. line on Iran. The NYT and other mainstream reports have noted this quite frankly. But you are right that it’s a point that’s been marginalized. You can find it in a single sentence towards the end of an article, if you find it at all.

      I agree with your point on coincidences. I don’t believe they are. No time now, but let’s continue the discussion.

  • Jeremy,

    This article is what I mean when I refer to no bias. It was great and you supported your statements with facts. You positioned it with questions and essentially asked the reader to decide for himself. I learned something! Dr. Roberts on the other hand makes a lot of good points but he often states it as opinion offering little evidence. His two recent articles on Iran are good examples. Maybe I am splitting hairs but I get out of whack when I see writers inject a lot of personal opinion with name calling. In my mind it only hurts the message they are trying to get across. On your article I don’t think the US is pushing for war but using it as a bully tactic to get their way. I also think this is a calculated move on the part of the Iranians to create a threat to try and unify the people. Once unified he will use it to crush the reform movement under the pretext of that “outside” threat he harps on so much about. I can’t see any other reason for the regime to divulge the sites existence. Check out they have a lot of good coverage on Iran and they go into some detail on the political forces behind the scenes. I found it extremely helpful in understanding the dynamics from the Iranian side. Ironically I don’t think they intended to focus so much on Iran but their coverage of the Quds protests caused their page count reads to go up exponentially.

    • Appreciated, Bill. I do see your point on bias, but it is often a matter of relativity. I’m sure many people after reading the NYT would read this and think it’s very, very biased. Then again, “bias” itself might be a word needing defining. I typically take it to mean choosing facts to suit a preconceived notion rather than drawing conclusions based on facts. I don’t think Mr. Roberts does the former, as opposed to the latter. But that may not even be what you mean by “bias”, so maybe that’s apples and oranges.

      • Never fear I have serious issues with the MSM and far right perspectives when they do the same thing. To many cherry pick facts or omit outright to pander a point. That is propoganda not journalism. Agree on Bias and maybe I should not let my bias for opinion papers with name calling keep me from seeing the message.

  • Guys and Gals,

    Here is some humor for you about Ahmadinejad: Iran Top-Secret: The President’s Gmail Account–

    It is tasteful and quite funny!

  • Eric Pottenger

    Jeremy, I think I’m just gonna scrap this reluctance I have to write an article about these not-so-coincidental coincidences, and just write one. I’ll forward you the link when I finish. Maybe then we can have an enlightening information-sharing ‘chat’ about this issue, which, it seems, is important to both of us. I would love your critique regarding my perspectives, which are somewhat informed but also include many gaps.

    For example, while pondering your previous comment (to me) about the Israelis not having anything to offer the Russians…when I think of that, it seems to me that the US/UK/Israel partnership in the region would override the necessity for Israel to provide specific bargaining tools in this instance. Not to say that Israel’s interests are insignificant or anything. But the “cost” could be exacted, it seems to me, in relation to the Palestinian issue, which has a direct relationship to how the US, largely, is perceived both in the region and around the world. Which is probably the central reason that Obama has been sponsored and promoted. Bush may have pushed the troops in, thereafter angering the world. But then Obama comes in, speaking of change and partnerships, administering the ‘pacification’ program with empty words, with clear articulation…with a teleprompter.

    And how successful has he been? Just watch those CSPAN speeches at the UN–leaders from low-wage neo-colonial slaves states talking firmly about “security” and nuclear disarmament, all in the shadow of these dubious revelations of a secret Iranian nuclear facility. It is moments like this for me, watching those speeches, listening to the phrasing, paying attention to the body language, thinking about the “coincidence,” thinking about the G20 being named as the new global economic council (as Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested in his speech to the RIIA in November, 2008, just following the Obama victory)…it becomes clear to me, the strategic value of this global partnership talk; the use-value of selling “partnership” for global economic specialization and centralization; and of the “Obama effect” to successfully push this agenda through.

    I’ll be in touch…