The U.S. and Iran are on the verge of a new nuclear ‘deal’ – why is the media ignoring the story ?

James North

Mondoweiss  /  June 17, 2023

A possible new U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement is the best news from the Middle East in years. So why isn’t the U.S. media reporting it?

The U.S. and Iran may be moving toward a diplomatic understanding that, in some ways, revives the nuclear deal that Donald Trump unilaterally ended in 2018 — but the American mainstream press is mostly missing the story. The tentative new agreement, under which Iran would freeze its enrichment of nuclear material in return for some relief from U.S.-imposed economic sanctions, would unquestionably reduce the chances of a conflict in the Mideast, including an eventual nuclear confrontation. 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government, and its allies in the U.S. pro-Israel lobby, can be counted on to launch a propaganda barrage to sabotage any new U.S./Iran agreement — just as they fought hard against the first nuclear deal in 2015. Poor or non-existent American media coverage so far guarantees that the U.S. public will have only the vaguest idea about what is happening.

You need to turn to the Israeli paper Haaretz to get a clearer picture. Amos Harel, the publication’s veteran military correspondent, got an Israeli general to go on the record with some candid information. Harel reports that “many of the experts in [Israel’s] security establishment support the new understandings and view them as the least of the evils.” He added that a number of top military brass had actually opposed “the Israeli move in 2018 that pushed U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the nuclear agreement that had been signed three years earlier.” (This angle rarely makes it into print in the U.S. media.) 

All the warnings proved accurate. Despite saber-rattling from Israel and the Trump administration and a campaign of assassination and sabotage inside Iran that was almost certainly sponsored by Israel, Tehran successfully continued to enrich uranium, and is only weeks away from having enough material to make a bomb, (although the experts caution that Iran has not developed a missile delivery system yet). 

The proposed U.S.-Iran understanding will be informal and unwritten. The U.S. will not call the new arrangement an “agreement” in order to avoid having to get the U.S. Congress to approve it. 

Even so, the Netanyahu government’s counter-attack has already started. Avi Dichter, a minister in Israel’s security cabinet, said the Biden administration was “showing signs of weakness” against Iran.

Dichter’s attack is just the beginning. The U.S. is reportedly offering to ease economic sanctions, allowing the release of $20 billion in Iranian assets that are frozen outside the country — in South Korea, Iraq, and at the International Monetary Fund. Netanyahu, the Israel lobby, and many in the U.S. Congress will surely misrepresent this as ‘Biden is giving the dangerous Iranians $20 billion’ — when it is actually their own money. 

For more than a decade, Netanyahu has tried to incite the U.S. into launching an armed attack against Iran’s nuclear program (even though Israel’s own military experts admit such a strike could set back, but would not end, Tehran’s nuclear efforts). 

So far, not a word in The Washington Post about the latest U.S.-Iran rapprochement. National Public Radio aired a poor report back on May 30; (the report’s only mention of Israel was the announcement that “the American Friends of Hebrew University in Jerusalem” was one of the financial “supporters” of the program). The NPR report has already been overtaken by events.

The New York Times has run a single article, but it was unsurprisingly weak. As usual, the Times downplayed or ignored Netanyahu’s efforts over the years to provoke the U.S. into striking Iran. Unlike Haaretz, it nowhere explained that a number of ranking Israeli military officials apparently favor the latest U.S.-Iran detente — after they supported the 2015 Iran deal and warned that Trump was wrong to abrogate it. Nor did The Times spend a single sentence recapping the Israeli-sponsored sabotage/assassination campaign inside Iran. 

Instead, the paper inexplicably quoted at some length Dennis Ross, the American professional peace processor who is sometimes described as “Israel’s lawyer.” Ross has no expertise on Iran, nuclear diplomacy, the inner workings of Israel’s military, or any of the other angles that might have justified his appearance in the report. 

If the U.S.-Iran understanding does happen, it would be the best news from the Mideast in years. The new arrangement with Iran will slow or even stop a nuclear arms race in the region. Even if you set aside the chances of an intentional conflict between the U.S., Israel, and Iran, an accidental clash between the three nuclear powers would still be catastrophic. 

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large