Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Gareth Porter
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.
Q: Right. I read in Peter Jenkins’ analysis of your book that Israel has fabricated certain documents, including the information said to have been retrieved from a laptop computer in Iran in 2004, as you mentioned earlier, and the fabricated, fake data helped keep Iran’s nuclear controversy alive. Would you please elaborate more on Israel’s involvement in providing the U.S. and the IAEA with the false and groundless data and how they complicated Iran’s nuclear dossier?
A: Well, I think that evidence that Israel was fabricating these documents that the IAEA received in 2005 as well as later documents turned over to the IAEA directly by Israel in 2008 and 2009, according to Mohamed ElBaradei, is very strong, and there are several indicators that it was an Israeli job. One is that we know the Mujahedin-e-Khalq turned these documents over to German intelligence; that’s where they came from. A former German intelligence official gave me a detailed account of that in an interview I did with him last year for my book. So, that’s the first indication that it was an Israeli job, because the MEK, we know, has been used by Israel to provide the intelligence they didn’t want to be known as coming from Israel on more than one occasion. And of course the MEK has let its name to testimony to support the Israeli point of view on accusations of Iranian terrorism, specifically in the case of the Buenos Aires bombing of the AMIA community center in 1994. That’s one indicator.
The second indicator is that we know the Israelis had a program in Mossad to influence the foreign governments and news media on Iran and that office sometimes basically claimed that there were documents that come from inside Iran that they would share with the governments and the press. So they had a special office for operations against Iran. So, I’m quite convinced that Israel was behind these documents.
Q: Many of the sanctions which were imposed on Iran following the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate reports in 2007 that cleared Iran of all the accusations that it’s intending to produce nuclear weapons were hinged on the basis of allegations made by the Israelis like their claims about Iran’s nuclear tests in the Parchin military site. The Americans and the Europeans were frightened and took action to avert the perceived Iranian threat by imposing new rounds of sanctions again and again. However, it’s now clear that the claims were baseless and unfounded. How is Israel going to be held accountable over the prices it imposed on Iran, the United States and Europe by complicating their relationships?
A: I don’t understand why you would expect Israel to be held accountable. There’s no indication that any of the major powers have any intention to hold Israel accountable. I don’t think that’s an issue. I don’t think that’s going to be a realistic possibility.
Q: Are you trying to impart this message in your book that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military-industrial complex needed a new threat and enemy to fight against, and that also Israel was in dire need of an existential threat to deflect attention from its felonies in the Occupied Territories and its brutalities against the Palestinian people and keep up with its project of colonial settlements on the Palestinian lands? Has Iran’s nuclear program served as a pretext for the United States and Israel to further their national interests?
A: Yes, that’s one of the themes of my book. Both the United States national security establishment or the national security state and successive governments, both Labor and Likud in Israel, have found citing the alleged threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon as useful both for domestic politics in the case of Israel, and for essentially making sure that the national security organizations, particularly the CIA and Pentagon continue to get adequate funding after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I have documents on both cases, and some links that is one of the reasons I think this crisis ultimately arose and I’m suggesting that this is the only and necessarily the main reason it’s possible that this couldn’t happen even when the Soviet Union existed.
Q: What do you think about the approach taken by IAEA toward Iran following the stepping down of Mohamed El-Baradei and the beginning of Yukiya Amano’s term? Is it true that Amano has been enormously under the influence of the United States and has failed to provide impartial and unbiased reports on Iran’s nuclear activities?
A: Well, Amano clearly is much more willing to cooperate with the United States than ElBaradei was. I think ElBaradei bowed to some significant extent to the U.S. pressure, allowing the safeguards department to have a sway in determining what would be the IAEA reports in 2008 and particularly in 2009, but Amano clearly has an understanding of the basis on which the United States supported Amano to become the successor to ElBaradei in 2009. This is well-documented in the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks and we know for sure that Amano has an understanding of the U.S. support strategy when he was about to become the successor to ElBaradei.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the importance of the Geneva interim accord on Iran’s nuclear program and the new round of talks in Vienna for a final, comprehensive agreement between Iran and the six world powers? Do you think that these talks can pave the way for the complete solution of the nuclear standoff and the removal of the unjust economic sanctions?
A: I would be plausibly surprised if that happens. I have to say that I feel overall somehow pessimistic about the possibility for reaching an agreement, but I hope I’m wrong. The reason I’m pessimistic is that I see so many indications that the Obama administration’s senior officials during the course of the negotiations are still very much under the influence of the false narrative that I deconstruct in my book, and I think that is undoubtedly leading the United States toward adopting a much harder line in the negotiations than it would otherwise be the case, and I’m just afraid that there’s not going to be a breakdown in the talks and it’s inevitable.
Q: Having in mind what you just said, do you believe that President Obama is striding on the same path of George W. Bush and following a policy of regime change in Iran under the influence of AIPAC and other Israeli advocacy groups?
A: No, this administration is not the same as the Bush administration with regards to its relationship with Israel and the Israeli lobby. As I said before, 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. I think they are under the illusion that they don’t have the freedom to reach an agreement with Iran without risking the United States security and I think they are under a false impression over several issues.
Q: I just want to ask you a final question. What do you think about the impact of the economic sanctions imposed against Iran? Do you think that the sanctions have a legal warranty and justifiability?
A: No way, I don’t believe the sanctions are justified. The entire intention of my book is to show that the U.S. policy in accusing Iran is unjustified and this simply misrepresents the actual history of the interaction between the United States and Iran’s nuclear program. So, there’s no justification to the sanctions.
Key Words: Israel, IAEA, Fake Documents Iran’s Nuclear Program, U.S. President, Middle East Policies, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mohamed El-Baradei, Yukiya Amano, Geneva Interim Accord, AIPAC, Porter
By Kourosh Ziabari