The Washington Post Learned Nothing From Iraq, Baselessly Claims ‘Sanctions Aren’t Slowing Iran’s Nuclear Progress’

Here’s the headline of an editorial in today’s Washington Post:

Sanctions aren’t slowing Iran’s nuclear progress.

And this is from the May report of the United Nations special experts panel on the impact of sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in June 2010:

[Sanctions] are constraining Iran’s procurement of items related to prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile activity and thus slowing development of these programs.

It is certainly fair to ask whether or not these measures actually serve the goal of a negotiated solution to the nuclear impasse. But it’s simply false to claim that they’re having no impact on the program.

The editorial goes on to cite British Foreign Secretary William Hague as support for its assertion:

As British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in an op-ed published by the Guardian last week, it would take only two to three months to convert the uranium enriched at Qom into weapons-grade material. That means that Iran could have a “breakout” capacity allowing it to quickly produce a weapon when it chose to do so.

And here’s the actual passage from Hague’s op-ed, substantially more qualified than the Post’s rendering:

[W]hen enough 20% enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qom, it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons grade material. There would remain technical challenges to actually producing a bomb, but Iran would be a significant step closer.

So, if Iran proceeded with plans to enrich to 20 percent, and if it then accumulated enough 20 percent enriched uranium, and if it then decided to convert this to weapons grade material, it could — if it overcame certain technical challenges — have a breakout capacity enabling it to produce a weapon within several months if it chose to do so.


The U.S. intelligence community continues to maintain that, while “Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” there’s still insufficient evidence to determine that such a decision has been made.

Similarly, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano said in an interview earlier this year that, “Despite all unanswered questions, we cannot say that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.”

While Iran’s regional ambitions have been set back by the ongoing uprisings in the Arab world, it is still clearly engaged in a range of activities that are of major concern to the U.S. and its allies. As evidenced by its work in creating unprecedented international consensus and pressure on Iran’s nuclear program and its abuses of human rights, the Obama administration understands the extent of the Iranian challenge. But efforts to deal responsibly and effectively with this challenge are not served by alarmist misrepresentations of what we do and do not know about it.

Today’s editorial has echoes of the recent past. In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the Washington Post disgraced itself by serving as an amplifier for the Bush administration’s false claims about the threat posed by Iraq. The Post’s editors have subsequently continued to mislead the Post’s readers about the extent of those deceptions. Troublingly, they now seemed poised to do it all over again.