No one would give Iran a nuclear congeniality award, but the Washington Post’s coverage of the Islamic republic is starting to look like an unhealthy fixation. After all, Iran isn’t the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear issues.
Typically, Iranian diplomats complain about silence in the media over Israel’s nuclear arsenal. But the two countries make an imperfect comparison. Israel never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
A much better comparison would be Egypt. The country is legally bound under the treaty and fails to declare all of its nuclear sites. More importantly, Egypt refuses to endure thorough inspections under Additional Protocol, a program that allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to better detect undeclared nuclear activities. Iran’s own disregard for Additional Protocol is the main reason compelling the nuclear watchdog to proclaim a lack of “confidence in the absence of possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme” in a February 2010 report.
Faced with lack of cooperation from Egypt, the agency should offer the same caution about possible undeclared nuclear activity. But it lets Egypt off the hook. Furthermore, the agency neglected to follow up on alarming discoveries, or even to publish all its findings on Egypt, which unsettles nuclear expert Pierre Goldschmidt of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He critiqued the agency's incomplete work in a February 2009 article in Survival.
Instead of writing about this oversight, the Washington Post only has eyes for Iran.
In May 2009, Reuters reported on the detection of high-enriched uranium in Egypt. The country claimed the traces (enriched beyond the level needed for peaceful applications) found their way into Egypt with legally imported nuclear material. Yet a search of the Washington Post archives on nuclear issues in the Middle East exposes a single-minded focus: The paper can hardly turn its gaze from Iran. No mention of Egypt or the high-enriched uranium found there.
It gets even worse in an April 14 article by staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan. She paints Iran as being on a "march to obtaining a large stockpile of enriched uranium," words associated with a parade of atomic arms. Without clarification, "enriched uranium" sounds menacing, especially when the next sentence explains, "High enriched uranium is a key ingredient in an atomic bomb." Despite what Sheridan implies, the International Atomic Energy Agency advances no assessment that Iran is producing anything but low-enriched uranium, which is not concentrated enough to be used in weapons. (To be fair, the agency does call for Iran to better comply with safeguard implementations.) But reporter Sheridan doesn’t need evidence or direct statements, not when she’s armed with impressions.
With the delay of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (a report by the U.S. on national security issues), much of the assessment of Iran’s nuclear program remains sealed. And as diplomats attend summits and assemble allies to maneuver further sanctions against Iran, maybe our capital’s newspaper could exercise some measure of doubt and simply report.