Sorry, Melanie, your pants are on fire: Mehdi Hasan on Question Time

The Daily Mail columnist talked nonsense about Iran and the IAEA on last night's Question Time.

On last night's Question Time, well-known Middle East expert and respected nuclear analyst Melanie Phillips proclaimed:

The IAEA and virtually every western government believes that Iran is racing to develop a nuclear weapon. It is behaving entirely as if it is. It is boasting that it is.

Put aside the nonsensical and deluded claim that Iran has "boasted" it is building nukes (eh? Where? When? That would be big news, wouldn't it? We might even have seen it mentioned on the front page of the Mail...had it happened...).

Instead, focus for a moment on her confident claim regarding the beliefs of the "IAEA and virtually every western government". For a start, the IAEA has said no such thing. Here's the crucial bit from the IAEA's "hawkish" November 2011 report:

[T]he Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement

Admittedly, the IAEA does go on to point out that

the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and
therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

but that isn't the same as saying the IAEA believes Iran is "racing to develop a nuclear weapon", is it? It isn't even close. (Phillips omitted to mention, and none of her fellow panellists seemed aware of, the fact that the IAEA is no longer neutral on this subject: as WikiLeaks revealed, new IAEA boss Yukiya Amano told the Americans in 2009 that "he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program".)

From the New Yorker in November:

A nuanced assessment of the I.A.E.A. report was published by the Arms Control Association (A.C.A.), a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage public support for effective arms control. The A.C.A. noted that the I.A.E.A. did "reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some times: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others." (The American intelligence community reached the same conclusion in a still classified 2007 estimate.) The I.A.E.A.'s report "suggests," the A.C.A. paper said, that Iran "is working to shorten the timeframe to build the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable." Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst who was one of the authors of the A.C.A. assessment, told me, "There is troubling evidence suggesting that studies are still going on, but there is nothing that indicates that Iran is really building a bomb." He added, "Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report."

Then there is the official, consensus view of the US government's national intelligence community, which concluded in 2007, with "high confidence", that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform uranium into a nuclear weapon had been shut down since 2003, and also said with high confidence that the halt "was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure". This view, as of 2011, had not changed.

How about the Israeli view? They're all hawks over in Tel Aviv, right? Wrong. From Ha'aretz on 18 January:

The intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to Dempsey indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon - or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.

So what on earth was Phillips talking about? And why did the other panellists, or the presenter, not challenge her hyperbole and sabre-rattling? Judging from last night's Question Time, I fear we are in Iraq/2003 territory once more. God help us all...

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest in crushing victory

The Labour leader increased his mandate from 2015. 

Jeremy Corbyn has stormed to victory with an increased mandate in his second Labour leadership contest, with 61.8 per cent of the vote.

The Labour leader won 59 per cent of the member vote, 70 per cent of registered supporters' votes and 60 per cent of affiliated supporters' votes.

His triumph confirms for any remaining doubters the party's shift to the left - in 2015, he had won 59.5 per cent of the vote.

Owen Smith, the challenger, received 38.2 per cent of the vote. He was reported to have conceded defeat moments before the official result.

The turn out was 77.6 per cent, with 506,438 valid votes cast. 

Both men ran on a similar platform of opposition to austerity and zero-hours contracts, but Corbyn commanded the support of the majority of grassroots activists and party members.

In his victory speech, he struck a conciliatory note, thanking volunteers on both teams and telling Smith: "We are part of the same Labour family."

He said: "I will do everything I can to repay the trust and support, to bring our party together."

Pledging to make Labour an engine of change, he urged party members to "wipe the slate clean" after a summer of sniping and work together.

"We are proud as a party that we're not afraid to discuss openly, to debate and disagree. That is essential for a party that wants to change people's lives for the better," he said. 

Noting the party had tripled its membership since last spring, he urged members to take Labour's message into every community, and said the party had a duty of care to its members: "Politics is demeaned and corroded by intimidation and abuse. It's not my way, and it's not the Labour way, and never will be."

Smith, by contrast, stepped forward to represent disaffected Labour MPs, who were unimpressed with Corbyn's campaign during the EU referendum and feared he was unelectable. 

Corbyn's victory will at least temporarily quash any rival leadership bids, but it nevertheless leaves the leader with a headache. 

After the vote for Brexit, a wave of resignations emptied Corbyn's shadow cabinet, and he has not succeeded in fully refilling it. He now faces the choice of building bridges with the parliamentary Labour party, or going down the more radical route of reshaping the party itself. 

Much hinges on the decision of the National Executive Committee on whether to allow elected shadow cabinet positions, which could potentially offer a way back in for anti-Corbyn MPs. But if such elections extended to grassroots members, this could also end up isolating them further.