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Press on Iran Driving up Tension in Negotiations

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on July 28, 2008

By starting off last week with articles which poked fun at the Iranians for spelling mistakes and negotiating tactics, and ending the week with false claims that Iran planned to halt negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the press is hurting efforts to reduce tension in both US-Iranian relations and the greater dialogue between Iran and the International Community.

Poking Fun at Iran

Surprisingly, Elaine Sciolino, who reports on Iran negotiations regularly from Paris for the New York Times, started her article off last Tuesday July 22 by making fun of a spelling mistake the Iranian negotiators made in a meeting document they brought to negotiations in Geneva Saturday July 19. This meeting grew in importance when the Bush Administration changed its long standing anti-dialogue stance to send US Undersecretary of State Bill Burns to a meeting with representatives from Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany and China.

The first line of Ms. Sciolino's article in the New York Times said, "The Iranians called their proposal a 'none paper.'" A "non-paper" is diplomatic jargon for a paper that will not technically be used as a statement of official opinion or law, but instead, is offered to open debate or discussion on a topic. Poking fun at the spelling mistake and possibly the letters content as well, the article then said that, "Sergei Kisliak, the Russian deputy foreign minister, could not suppress a laugh when he read it." Anyone that has been privy to international negotiations knows how common spelling mistakes and language mix-ups are. The Iranians could have given the group a paper in Farsi, their mother tongue. At least Iran is making an effort to translate everything they write, no small feat for any nation.

Negotiations over Something is Better than Nothing

The New York Times article also criticized the Iranians for offering a start to negotiations which would leave out the major topics of tension, Iran suspending its nuclear program activity. The article said;

Both in their paper, and throughout the talks, the Iranians did not discuss the formula, called a "freeze for freeze." As a result, they left the impression that they wanted to lure the parties into an open-ended, cost-free, high-level negotiating process.

In view of all the tension filling Iran's foreign relations recently, with wars on two of its borders and continued threats from the United States, it is not a bad idea to start talks aimed at reducing tension and building trust before any substantive issues are resurfaced. The Iranians sent a longer letter to the IAEA June 16, stressing Iran's desire to have a "new round of negotiations," which would "help to establish long-term cooperation between parties and contribute to the sustainability and strength of the regional and international security and a just peace." The letter suggests that such talks could include "security issues," but also less intense topics such as "drug control" and "environmental conservation." Iran hopes that goals in this proposal can be assimilated into the proposal that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany presented to Iran June 14. Iran is seeking ways and means to reduce tensions through contact on other less heated topics, which may be necessary to build trust before more sensitive topics are brought to the negotiating table.

Fishing for Conflict

Later in the week George Jahn, reporting for the Associated Press, falsely reported that Iran was cutting off cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The article entitled, "Iran ends cooperation with UN nuclear arms probe," stated July 24 that, "Iran signaled Thursday that it will no longer cooperate with U.N. experts probing for signs of clandestine nuclear weapons work, confirming the investigation is at a dead end a year after it began." Mr. Jahn called his main source the Vice President of Iran, not specifying in his article that the Vice President of Iran does not correlate with the position in the United States. In fact, there are ten Iranian Vice Presidents. Leaving this fact out made his allegation more convincing.

Mr. Jahn authored another article on Iran the next day entitled, "Iran to increase cooperation with IAEA." Possibly, Mr. Jahn thought he had evidence for his allegation and discovered a day later that he was wrong. In any case, reporters on Iran and the nuclear negotiations need to be extra cautious when reporting out major policy shifts and should also be allowed time to study Iran's political system and culture, since stories like Mr. Jahn's first one, could add to already high tension building towards a US war on Iran.

Press which builds tension and demonizes Iran will leave readers feeling scared and threatened. These readers are more likely to buy into the idea that another war in the Middle East is the only solution. Press which educates people on the US-Iran challenge will empower them with knowledge which will help them become part of the policy debate. Those that are educated with real facts will likely speak out for peace and diplomacy, rather than war with Iran.


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