Here are two stories from the last 24 hours which provide an interesting and glaring contrast:
Iran also pledged that within weeks it would allow the inspection of a previously covert uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that he'd head to Tehran to work out the details.
President Obama has reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections, three officials familiar with the understanding said.
The officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing private conversations, said Mr. Obama pledged to maintain the agreement when he first hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in May.
Under the understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could require Israel to give up its estimated several hundred nuclear bombs.
In addition to agreeing to allow full inspections of its Qom facility, Iran yesterday also did this:
Iran agreed in principle Thursday to ship most of its current stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be refined for exclusively peaceful uses, in what Western diplomats called a significant, but interim, measure to ease concerns over its nuclear program. . . .
Under the tentative uranium deal, Iran would ship what a U.S. official said was "most" of its approximately 3,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be further refined, to 19.75 percent purity. That is much less than the purity needed to fuel a nuclear bomb.
French technicians then would fabricate it into fuel rods and return it to Tehran to power a nuclear research reactor that's used to make isotopes for nuclear medicine.
Steve Hynd explains why Iran's willingness to agree to this process was both so surprising and so significant. As is true for any tentative agreement with anyone, there is always the possibility that something could happen prior to compliance, but this was a deal reached after a single-day meeting. Just consider that, as Hynd said on Twitter, the "Obama WH already got more from one buffet lunch with Iran than Bush WH did in 8 years of saber-rattling." For that reason, it's hard to disagree with this: "In Washington, President Barack Obama said the talks marked 'a constructive beginning' and showed the promise of renewed engagement with Iran . . . ." Charles Krauthammer picked a bad day to haul out the tired neocon "appeasement" platitude and apply it to Obama, claiming -- as always -- that negotiations and diplomacy can accomplish nothing, while railing like a madman against Obama's "naivite," "fecklessness," and "wasting time with feel-good posturing."
Related to all of this, actual Middle East expert Juan Cole has written an excellent article for Salon pointing out the "top 10 facts" which many Americans (and, definitely, most American journalists) do not know about Iran. Many of these suppressed facts -- and that's what they are -- are the ones I've been trying to highlight, including during my MSNBC discussion the other day. Just contemplate how different -- and how vastly improved -- our discussions would be if these basic facts were acknowledged by journalists reporting on Iran and by pundits opining on the subject.
UPDATE: Kudos to Ken Millstone of CBS News, who -- citing a claim from a Canadian offiical that Iran tried to obtain material for a nuclear weapon in Canada, as reported by Canada's National Post -- writes:
The article, however, offers nothing to corroborate Webb's claims and reports them without even a hint of skepticism . . . . But skepticism is merited. The government claims and breathless media reporting -- without adequate evidence -- that Iran is a grave and looming threat is reminiscent of the same claims and media coverage in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as several commentators have pointed out. Remember Saddam Hussein's horde of yellowcake uranium?
“In 2002, it seemed utterly naïve to believe Saddam didn’t have a program,” Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick told the New York Times in an article analyzing those parallels. The article continues: "Now the notion that Iran is not racing to build a bomb is similarly excluded from serious discussion, he said."
Millstone cites, among other things, my post from the other day arguing that Iraq lessons should be applied to claims of the Iranian Threat, beginning with media skepticism. If enough people express basic skepticism of this sort -- meaning: believing assertions to be true only when accompanied by compelling, verifiable evidence -- it could substantially improve the public discussions over Iran.