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Middle East Issues





Netanyahu on the Iran Deal: NY Times Vs. NY Times


"We also check assertions. If news articles - from The Times and other publications - are at odds with a point or an example in an essay, we need to resolve whatever discrepancy exists," wrote then New York Times Op-Ed editor David Shipley in 2004 concerning Op-Ed submissions.

If yesterday's editorial about the Iranian deal is any indication, Times editorials are apparently exempt from this stated policy ("An Iranian Nuclear Deal That Reduces the Chance of War").

Thus, in contradiction to multiple news articles, The Times editorial asserts that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "Republicans in Congress and most candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have opposed negotiations with Iran from the outset yet offered no credible alternative to a negotiated settlement."

In the News: Netanyahu's Position

Is it true that Netanyahu has "opposed negotiations with Iran from the outset?" Not according to The New York Times' own news articles, which over the last 20 months made clear that Netanyahu was critical of the "bad deal" shaping up, and advocated for a "better deal" with more severe restrictions on Iran.

For instance, on April 7, 2015, Isabel Kershner and David E. Sanger made plainly clear in great detail that Israel has put forward its own specific conditions for a deal ("Skeptical of Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel Calls for Changes"):

Clearly unsatisfied with assurances from President Obama about the provisions of the Iran nuclear deal, Israel on Monday listed specific requirements that it declared were necessary in any final agreement.

The list, produced by Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of intelligence and strategic affairs and one of the Israeli government's harshest critics of the negotiations, marked a change in direction for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Until now, Israel has argued, at least publicly, that the only good deal would halt all uranium enrichment by Iran, essentially rolling back the clock by 20 years. It has never before defined the ''better deal'' that Mr. Netanyahu told Congress the world needed. . . .

The Israeli list of additions to the framework includes the following:

An end to all research and development activity on advanced centrifuges in Iran. . . .

A significant reduction in the number of centrifuges that are operational or that can quickly become operational if Iran breaks the agreement and decides to build a bomb. . . .

The closing of the Fordo facility as an enrichment site, even if enrichment activities are suspended there. . . .

Iranian compliance in revealing its past activities with ''possible military dimensions.'' . . .

A commitment to ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of Iran. . .

''Anywhere, anytime'' access for inspectors charged with verifying the agreement in Iran. . .

In a March 24, 2015 piece in which Jodi Rudoren answered readers' question about Netanyahu, The Times' Jerusalem bureau chief reported:

He says what he wants is a better deal. It got a bit lost in all the hubbub over his backtrack on the Palestinian state question, but Mr. Netanyahu gave some specifics in his MSNBC interview last week: He said he would prefer zero centrifuges but that ''a smaller number'' than the 6,000 on the table ''would be something that Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn't love but they could live with.'' He and others in his circle have said their biggest concern is the idea of an automatic sunset after 10 years. So, there may be some wiggle room there.

Following Netanyahu's speech in Congress about the Iranian issue, The Times' Peter Baker wrote in a news analysis ("What Netanyahu Chose Not to Say Signals Slight Shift," March 5, 2015):

Rather than insist that Iran be left with no centrifuges and that it be barred from any enrichment of uranium, as he has in the past, Mr. Netanyahu signaled that he could live with a modest capability, just not one as robust as Mr. Obama would permit.

His position and Mr. Obama's remain miles apart, probably too distant to reconcile, and the Israeli leader's revised view is even further removed from what Iran has demanded. But it did raise the question of whether the retreat from the maximalist posture meant that Mr. Netanyahu could ultimately, if grudgingly, swallow an imperfect deal . . .

 

''The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal,'' Mr. Netanyahu told Congress. ''A better deal that doesn't leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short breakout time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in place until Iran's aggression ends.''

In a statement upon returning to Jerusalem after the speech, Mr. Netanyahu argued that he had proposed a better deal, not no deal. ''In my speech before the Congress, I presented a practical alternative, which would impose tougher restrictions on Iran'snuclear program, extending Iran's breakout time by years,'' he said.

On Nov. 20, 2013, Michael Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink reported:

In Moscow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and continued his calls for an agreement that would end Iran's uranium enrichment activities, among other steps.

''We believe that you can get a better deal,a better accord,'' Mr. Netanyahusaid. ''And it demands persistence and consistency.''

Earlier in the talks process, Netanyahu demonstrated less flexibility (initially, he lobbied for the dismantlement of all centrifuges, a position that the United States itself had at once held and which was consistent with six United Nations Security Council resolutions dating from 2006 to 2010). Nevertheless, even then, he did not oppose negotiations. The dispute between Israel and the U.S. wasn't for or against negotiations, but the goals of the talks. David Sanger and Jodi Rudoren reported Nov. 18, 2013: 

Yet the disagreement is about far more than negotiating tactics. In interviews, both American and Israeli officials conceded that the terms of the preliminary accord reflect a difference in fundamental goals. Mr. Obama speaks often of his determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon; Mr. Netanyahu sets a far higher bar of preventing Iran from gaining, or keeping, the capability to ever build one. . .

 

Likewise, Michael Gordon reported Nov. 16, 2013 ("Compromise May Be Near for Iran Nuclear Deal, U.S. Official Says"):

The prospect that a deal could be reached soon has provoked a storm of protest from Israel and criticism from Republicans and some Democrats. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has mounted a campaign against the agreement. In a Twitter post on Friday, he cautioned the West not to embrace a ''bad deal.''

''Iran is on its knees economically & it's possible to get a better deal,'' Mr. Netanyahu wrote. ''Before the sanctions are lessened, get a good deal, not a bad deal.''

 

While editorial writers are free to their own opinions, they are not free to their own facts. Thus, when an earlier Times editorial argued that the stronger terms that Netanyahu demanded is tantamount to "no deal at all," it stood on sound journalistic ground. The April 8, 2015 editorial opined:

Prime Minister of Israel has gone into overdrive against a nuclear agreement with Iran. On Monday, his government made new demands that it claimed would ensure a better deal than the preliminary one that President Obama and other leaders of major powers announced last week. The new demands are unrealistic and, if pursued, would not mean a better deal but no deal at all.

(Whether or not this conclusion is well-founded is another question beyond the scope of this piece.)

But to state as fact that Netanyahu "opposed the negotiations with Iran from the outset" is a fabrication belied by the paper's own news coverage, and it has no place in an editorial.


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