UPDATED Washington Post Editors Get Mixed Up On Iran’s Nuclear Program

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"UPDATED Washington Post Editors Get Mixed Up On Iran’s Nuclear Program"

An editorial in today’s Washington Post gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu credit for the Iranian government’s decision to stop short of accumulating enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Back in September 2012, Netanyahu made a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he used a cartoon bomb to illustrate Iran’s nuclear progress, using a red magic marker to draw a line beyond which he believed Iran should not be allowed to progress.

According to the Post’s editors, Netanyahu’s “explicit setting of a ‘red line’ for the Iranian nuclear program… appears to have accomplished what neither negotiations nor sanctions have yielded: concrete Iranian action to limit its enrichment”:

A host of commentators both in the United States and Israel scoffed at what they called Mr. Netanyahu’s “cartoonish” picture of a bomb and the line he drew across it. The prime minister said Iran could not be allowed to accumulate enough 20 percent enriched uranium to produce a bomb with further processing, adding that at the rate its centrifuges were spinning, Tehran would cross that line by the middle of 2013.

Iran, too, dismissed what its U.N. ambassador called “an unfounded and imaginary graph.” But then a funny thing happened: The regime began diverting some of its stockpile to the manufacture of fuel plates for a research reactor. According to the most recent report of international inspectors, in February, it had converted 40 percent of its 20 percent uranium to fuel assemblies or the oxide form needed to produce them. As a result, Iran has remained distinctly below the Israeli red line, and it probably postponed the earliest moment when it could cross that line by several months.

The flaw in this argument: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran began diverting its stockpile to the manufacture of fuel plates in late 2011, nearly a year before Netanyahu’s speech.

Back in June 2012, IAEA inspectors “verified that Iran converted about 33 percent of its 20 percent-enriched uranium stockpile, according to two senior international officials. Iran used about 49 kilograms (108 pounds) of the 145 kilogram stockpile to make fuel in the form of metal plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.”

This was again confirmed in the IAEA’s August 2012 report, which stated that, “Between the start of conversion activities on 17 December 2011 and 12 August 2012, Iran has fed into the process 71.25 kg” of its stockpile 20 percent enriched uranium. The Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann called this “One of the most significant and underreported developments in the August 30 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Underreported, perhaps. But you’d expect the editors of one of the U.S.’s leading newspapers to be aware of it.

Update

The Washington Post late Tuesday issued a correction to this editorial which reads as follows (emphasis added):

Correction: The editorial reported that Iran began diverting part of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to produce fuel rods following a speech to the United Nations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last September. Some uranium was also diverted before the speech. The editorial has been updated.

The editorial originally stated that Iran began converting its higher enriched uranium stockpile after Netanyahu’s speech to make the case that such rhetoric motivated the Iranians to act. Now, the Post editorial says that Iran “began diverting more [emphasis added] of its stockpile to the manufacture of fuel plates for a research reactor.” Thus, the Post now admits that the central thrust of its argument, that “clear red lines can help create the ‘time and space for diplomacy’” is no longer valid.

Update

Washington Post editorial board member Fred Hiatt told the Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib that “we continue to believe that pressure from Mr. Netanyahu prompted Iran to reduce its stockpile so that it would not approach the red line he set.”

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