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West’s Self-Made Image of Iranian Nuclear Industry

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Iran Newspaper

During recent decades some analysts and scholars in political and social fields have criticized Western societies because they use their self-made images of the other countries.

Those scholars that include renowned thinkers such as the famous Palestinian Orientalist Edward Said, believe that Western societies do not pay attention to differences between their own ideologies, values and actions and those of Eastern societies, but they judge Eastern countries on the basis of the image that they have built of the East, or what they call “the others”.

Therefore, most actions and plans made in Eastern countries in such fields as politics, culture, economy and society are mixed with other assumptions when studied in the Western societies.

One assumption, which has turned into a principle for Western countries and a norm when studying original issues, is lack of trust in the East and that Eastern countries are irrational. This is taken as a firm basis which forms Western opinions toward the East.

In other words, Orientalist discourse of the West puts some marginal issues in place of the main ones and analyzes the events accordingly.

The issue of Iranian nuclear dossier has been in focus of attention by Western countries and has been analyzed and taken into consideration by Western public opinion and politicians from the abovementioned viewpoint.

The following article is a summary of a research done by an American researcher at Louisiana State University, which discusses editorials of three major American papers on Iran’s nuclear issues during the past years. The research shows that how editorialists of those newspapers base their judgments on presumed ideas and influence viewpoints of politicians.

Editorials have been chosen for the research because they represent the dominant discourse between powerful economic figures and political elite where people are only onlookers. At the same time, the editorials present a clear picture of the ideology adopted by media masters. In this research, stress on Orientalists’ approach indicates attention to preformed definition of the East in Western societies.

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Historical Background

Iran started its nuclear program in the middle of 1960s under the US-backed monarchical regime of former Shah. In 1967, the United States built a 5-MW research reactor as a preparatory step to establish a nuclear research center in Tehran. A year later, Iran reviewed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 when it had just been declared. The treaty was finally approved by the United States government and Iran followed suit by ratifying the Non-Proliferation Treaty in March 1970.

The treaty aimed at preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons and related technology and to encourage peaceful use of nuclear energy as a prelude to general disarmament.

According to that treaty, non-nuclear-weapon states could take measures for peaceful use of nuclear energy under supervision of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France) were committed to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons by other countries, while keeping their own, and promised to cooperate with the general disarmament process. Israel, India, and Pakistan are three nuclear-weapon states which have withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran’s logic to start nuclear activities dates back to a plan offered by Stanford University back in 1972, which recommended construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran which would be able to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear power. As a result, the United States encouraged Iran to develop non-oil energy resources and announced that Iran needed nuclear reactors to achieve the predestined goal for nuclear power generation. Therefore, the United States indicated its interest to expand technical and educational cooperation with Iran’s nuclear program.

Subsequently, the Iranian king, who was supported by the United States, France and Germany, launched an ambitious plan to build 23 nuclear reactors which were scheduled to come on-stream in 1990s. The three countries also signed agreements with Iran for training nuclear skilled manpower. Today, Iran still resorts to 1970s’ agreement. Iran holds that it needs nuclear energy in order to allocate oil and gas reserves to foreign sales and earning foreign exchange revenues at a time that domestic energy consumption is constantly on the rise. Under current circumstances when Iran is short on resources and cannot count on much international cooperation, the country is single-handedly trying to realize, at least, one-third of its pre-revolution goals.

Construction of Bushehr atomic power plant in south Iran is the focus of the Iranian nuclear program. The former Shah of Iran had signed a contract with KRAFT union of the then West Germany (which was offshoot of Siemens Corporation) to build two nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 1,200 MW where the Bushehr plant is standing now. Construction of the complex began in 1974 and by the time of the Islamic Revolution, the first reactor had been progressed up to 90 percent and 60 percent of needed equipment had been installed. The second reactor had also progressed 50 percent. However, post-revolution conditions and abstinence of the German company to go on with the plan practically caused the Iranian nuclear program to grind to a halt. The reactor also underwent six aerial attacks by Iraqi planes between 1984 and 1987, as a result of which it suffered serious damages.

Pressured by the United States, the German contractor failed to meet its contractual commitments toward Bushehr power plant even after the end of the war between Iran and Iraq (1988). Germany even refused to deliver reactor equipment and technical documents whose cost had been already paid by Iran. In 1995, Iran signed a contract with the Russian ministry of nuclear energy according to which Russia undertook to complete and commission Bushehr reactors. Russia also accepted to establish a research, light water reactor, uranium enrichment facilities and gas centrifuges in addition to training, at least, 15 Iranian nuclear experts and supply the country with 2,000 tons of natural uranium. During the same year, Russia withdrew its agreement to build a research reactor and gas centrifuges under heavy pressure from the United States.

Approach: Analysis of Critical Dialogue

Data used for this analysis have been obtained from editorials of three American newspapers; namely, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. The current study focuses on the Iranian nuclear program. Since it was possible to present a relatively comprehensive analysis of editorials over a relatively long period of time, all editorials related to the subject which were printed between 1984 (then the first editorial on Iran’s nuclear program was published) and 2004 (when Iran’s approach to its commitments for uranium enrichment changed) were collected and analyzed.

Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post were chosen for this study for a variety of reasons. The three papers are supporting power bases and are the most commonly read print media in the United States, which rank the second, third and fifth, respectively, in terms of distribution and print run. They are also among mainstream press from the viewpoint of covering international news and opinions. USA Today, is the first in terms of print run, but hits the bottom among five top American newspapers in terms of international news coverage and editorials. Los Angeles Times ranks the fourth among five top papers, but is mostly a regional paper, which does not have much clout among politicians. Apart from being a national newspaper, Washington Post is the main newspaper in the American capital city. In addition, elite newspapers such as New York Times are a model for other print media, especially in terms of coverage they provide for global news and issues.

Editorials in Question

Editorials are usually divided into three general categories:

  1. Editorials which describe the situation and provide a brief report of a major news event;
  2. Those which analyze and judge about measures taken by major political players; and
  3. Editorials which focus on presenting expectations, proposals, or political advice.

The content of editorials is a function of self-convincing measures from an ideological viewpoint and directly affects the readership. Therefore, political analysts believe that using opposite words to describe political players and events as well as availing of expressive combinations, are other methods used by editorialists. Expressive combinations include pictures, aggrandized and downplayed images, exaggeration, euphemism, and reduction of meaning.

These methods are used by editorialists to downplay whatever they dislike while cooking up negative information about others.

According to studies carried out in the United States, editorialists of the three newspapers look upon Iran’s nuclear program through distrust in Islam and Iran and consider them as major threats. Those newspapers usually use the following phrases to put emphasis on threatening nature of Islam and Iran:

  • Islamic fundamentalist regime
  • Islamic extremists’ regime.

Making such images of the Iranian government has been followed more prominently by Wall Street Journal. In contrast to New York Times and Washington Post, Wall Street Journal has been seldom fair on Iran and uses official language on Iran less frequently.

On the whole, all of them maintain that Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear technology. New York Times has confirmed existence of the above tendency though it has dedicated one editorial to criticizing it.

It wrote that the Bush Administration is raising false alarms about nuclear threats posed to the Middle East by a certain country and extremists talk about Iran’s links to terrorists. The paper added that neoconservatives maintain that political efforts made by the European countries to reduce tensions with Iran are futile and announce that a rogue country’s promises cannot be taken seriously. The editorial also doubted alarms raised by the former US Secretary of State Colin Powell about an Iran threat.

In fact, the aforesaid newspapers consider Iran a rogue country whose promises cannot be trusted.

This judgment arises from Islamic nature of the Iranian government. Orientalists maintain that Islam is a threat and, therefore, the Iranian government is said to be untrustworthy. Such themes as the threatening nature of Islam and untrustworthiness of Iran have been used frequently by the said papers.

Islam as a threat has been motioned most in editorials of the Wall Street Journal. One of its editorials has noted that Russia will lose its interest to support a nuclear Iran in the region in the long run because Iran can disturb regional balance (by encouraging neighboring countries to build nuclear weapons).

What is important for editorialist of Wall Street Journal is not helping the world out of a nuclear threat, but to save US hegemony in the Middle East. The discourse used by that paper leaves no room for a regional rival. The main problem, in the eyes of editorialists of Wall Street Journal, is the religious government introduced by Iran because they consider Islam a source of threats.

Out of nine editorials carried by the Wall Street Journal, six editorials contain themes that are inspired by Orientalists’ viewpoints. Out of eight editorials carried by the Washington Post, six editorials are such. The ratio is five out of 12 editorials for New York Times and every one of those five editorials contains, at least, one Orientalist subject.

Therefore, the image of Iran in both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post is inspired by Orientalists’ doubtful viewpoints.

West vs. Islamic Iran

In the discourse chosen by the said newspapers, the concept of West vs. an Islamic Iran, in fact, sets limits between “we” (West) and “them” (Islamic Iran).

Although in editorials carried by the three newspapers, Iran’s nuclear standoff is of global importance, they usually pitch Iran against the West in this issue. They have also emphasized on the Islamic nature of Iran noting that although the Iranian nuclear program is progressing smoothly and is kept secret, the clerical regime of Iran can only be properly controlled through the Security Council or the West through threats and appropriate mechanisms.

They have also noted that it is incumbent on the next president of the United States as well as three European countries to make the Iranian president understand that the West cannot tolerate more procrastinations by Iran and if the country did not give up its uranium enrichment program, they should take serious and consolidated steps to impose tougher sanctions on Tehran.

An editorialist has noted that instead of thwarting measures taken by Iran, heads of Western states are consistently making each other’s efforts ineffective and this will poison transnational relations while making the fundamentalists ruling in Iran, happier.

Therefore, global trust in a powerful Islamic Republic of Iran is lacking. The editorials have frequently noted that Iran should be denied all the means of achieving nuclear know-how and technology even under extreme international pressures.
In view of the double use of nuclear technology, the three newspapers allege that the existing grounds for division among nations and military goals are not the main threats to international community, but Iran’s scientific and technological capabilities are.

Although the three newspapers defend different strategies, they are unanimous that Iran cannot be trusted with uranium enrichment. Iran may use it both for producing reactor grade fuel and to build nuclear bomb.

Wall Street Journal has called for a regime change through covert or overt means. Therefore, the United States should support the opposition fighting the Iranian regime and it should be able to take a military option into account at all times. However, Washington Post and New York Times are against recourse to force and regime change and maintain that such policies are not practical. Instead, they propose that the United States should act through political measures combined with explicit threats.

Nature of the Iranian Nuclear Program

The three newspapers have analyzed Iran’s nuclear program in their editorials. They consider Iran a country which is pursuing ambitious goals with regard to nuclear weapons. Therefore, the general concept is that Iran is actually pursuing a secret nuclear arms plan. The three newspapers then endeavor to achieve a definitive approach by relying on official sources in the United States and Israel.

Despite lack of occlusive information, the three newspapers take Iran’s nuclear weapon program for granted in their editorials and are more or less sure about the country’s plan to build atomic bomb.

The following paragraphs are indirect quotes from the said newspaper to the effect that the ability to enrich uranium alone is evidence to Iran’s military goals. One editorial claims that Iran’s reluctance to give up uranium enrichment shows that the country is bent on building nuclear weapons. Another editorial has noted that the United States has been trying for many years to prevent construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran because it says that an oil rich country does not need such a plant. The only way is for Iran to promise that it would dismantle uranium enrichment facilities and this is the only way to assure that proliferation of nuclear weapons is prevented. Yet another editorial has claimed that Iran is facing an urgent problem to attend to because the world has reached the conclusion that the Iranian scientists are seeking to convert natural uranium into bomb. Therefore, the only practical way for Iran is to build confidence with other countries, so that, they could trust Iran’s frequent promises about not building nuclear weapon. It added that Iran should not only suspend uranium enrichment, but also dismantle all its enrichment facilities under supervision of international authorities.

Therefore, their problem is not that Iran is trying or not to build nuclear bomb, but the problem is that Iran has achieved nuclear know-how. Therefore, the Iranians should not be trusted, because they have broken new grounds and have developed their own local technology. They are indirectly connoting that nuclear technology is only good for “us” (West and the United States) “because we are trustworthy.”

Political Approach

Editorials carried by the said newspapers, in fact, reflect the viewpoints of that part of the American statesmen who are not willing to reach an agreement with Iran because they believed that this would encourage Iran to seek more power at a time that it is becoming weaker.

In its reference to the need for regime change in Iran, Wall Street Journal uses the phrase “delusion of people’s support” and presumes that all totalitarian regimes are afraid of people, especially those social classes that love the United States or its values. This concept will lead to the conclusion that regime change in Iran would be welcomed by the Iranian people.

On the other hand, New York Times and Washington Post do not oppose regime change, but maintain that it is not practical under current circumstances.

The Washington Post has noted that the desire to change the Iranian regime is totally unrealistic and would not be a trustworthy strategy to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

New York Times also carried another editorial and differentiated between various political groups in Iran.

It noted that there were two combatant groups in Iran: one group that supports cooperation with IAEA inspectors and another, radical group which is seeking nuclear weapons. It then added that it was not wise for the United States to weaken the first group.

The paper also said that prevention of proliferation could only be achieved through multilateral diplomacy. In this diplomatic approach, the United States should cooperate with its European allies instead of ignoring them. According to this viewpoint, a diplomatic approach should give priority to “transparent motivations” and “clear risks”, that is, the United States should work with the European countries to make them support Washington after economic sanctions are justified.

New York Times, meanwhile, is against a military solution to the problem because it maintains that this would be unrealistic and would amount to a “catastrophic mistake”.

New York Times has described diplomatic approach adopted by Britain, France, and Germany as a new breakthrough.

However, in a subsequent editorial, the newspaper admitted that political approach alone was insufficient, but argued that there were still hopes about achieving positive results.

The newspaper noted that US allies were against Iran and that the main goal was to make sure that Iran would give up production of nuclear fuel.

Washington Post also maintains that a military option would be unrealistic. However, it also finds fault with diplomatic approach taken by the European countries. The paper argues that Europe’s approach is useless political scrambling.

Washington Post is of the opinion that European countries should adopt a more powerful approach in cooperation with Bush Administration and the United States should act more persistently. Nevertheless, the Washington Post criticized the approach taken by the United States and European countries to Iran’s nuclear program in its next editorials. Although Washington Post prefers a political option over a military one, but it also argues that a desirable approach could only be achieved through common policies adopted by European countries and the United States. Washington Post takes Bush Administration to task because it is just watching Europe’s diplomatic approach while struggling with internal differences.

According to the newspaper’s viewpoint, the only possible common strategy to be adopted by Europe and the United States is the policy of carrot and stick. However, it criticizes Washington for having failed to encourage European states to use threat.

Therefore, a final approach would be something like this: a transnational consolidated strategy which would take advantage of either of the two levers according to which economic sanctions will be taken into account or security guarantees are offered in parallel to economic incentives.

The Wall Street Journal also stresses on ineffectiveness of the dialogue-based approach taken by the European countries without trying to deal with proliferation of nuclear weapons. The paper maintains that the West should finally accept a nuclear Iran. While criticizing European diplomacy, the Wall Street Journal notes that European parties engage in political power struggle according to their economic interests and their rivalry with the United States. Therefore, it is suspicious about diplomatic measures taken by European countries.

Therefore, the Wall Street Journal maintains that steps, which have been taken by European countries to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons, are at best dubious and free from goodwill. It argues that Bush should not rely on Europeans when dealing with Iran’s nuclear case. The paper believes that the United States should act powerfully even if it would amount to unilateral action.

What has remained unsaid?

The editorials carried by the three newspapers revolve around the key point that the United States is responsible for fighting proliferation of the nuclear weapons. They are trying to show that Iran has not complied with its international obligations as per the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, “lack of trust” and “Islam” constitutes the basis of their double standard in treating “we” as opposed to “them”.

They downplay Iran’s right to achieve nuclear technology for peaceful purposes or totally deny it and, thus, focusing on a major goal of the NPT, which is nuclear disarmament. According to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear-weapon states may retain their nuclear arsenals, but they have also promised to show goodwill toward putting an end to nuclear arms race and have peaceful interaction with countries that are not trying to build nuclear bombs.

Analysis of critical discourse which is subject of this research would also reveal how the three prominent American newspapers have focused on issues related to Iran’s nuclear standoff and how they have availed of linguistic, stylistic and argumentative methods. Despite differences on their political proposals, the three newspapers converge on the common point that Iran is pursuing a secret nuclear weapon and that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a threatening government, which should not have access to sensitive technologies.

Their inattention to incoherent policies of “nonproliferation of nuclear weapons” adopted by the United States and nuclear-weapon European states shows how narrow is the range of criticism in US media against their respective government.

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