Ignatius’s ignorance

David Ignatius is the prominent Washington Post columnist who specializes in foreign affairs. I’ve written about him a lot, as in “Ignatius ignores” and “The case of David Ignatius.” His superficiality and animus can’t be concealed, but they are manifested in smooth prose and an authoritative voice. It’s a killer combination.

Earlier this week in “A perfect storm brews in the Middle East,” Ignatius served as the medium for the Obama administration’s latest assault on the Israeli government. Ignatius opens his column with a message from Obama:

Mistrust between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli prime minister has authorized leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran.

The decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive information about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu’s office had given Israeli journalists sensitive details of the U.S. position, including a U.S. offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium with 6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal.

Obama administration officials believed these reports were misleading because the centrifuge numbers are part of a package that includes the size of the Iranian nuclear stockpile and the type of centrifuges that are allowed to operate. A deal that allowed 500 advanced centrifuges and a large stockpile of enriched uranium might put Iran closer to making a bomb than one that permitted 10,000 older machines and a small stockpile, the administration argues.

I don’t understand (and Ignatius doesn’t explain) why the “package” is sensitive information. I can see, however, why disclosure might be inconvenient for the Obama administration. Knowledge of the “package” might raise concerns on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration intends to present Congress with a fait accompli.

Ignatius implies that confidentiality inheres in the United States offer to Iran. Assuming that to be true, however, Ignatius still misses the story. His interlocutor in the Obama administration was using Ignatius falsely to defame the Israeli government. Jeff Dunetz notes that if Ignatius had access to Google or otherwise bothered to double check what his friend in the administration was spoon feeding him, he might have discovered he was being misled. This past November the Los Angeles Times reported:

The Obama administration has agreed to allow Iran to operate 6,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, up from a proposed ceiling of 4,000 reported two weeks ago, as part of negotiations for a nuclear deal, according to a website approved by the Iranian government.

The claim appeared to be the latest sign that the pace of bargaining is intensifying between Iran and six world powers as they face a Nov. 24 negotiating deadline.

The two sides are seeking a comprehensive deal that would lift international sanctions on Iran’s economy in exchange for verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program to prevent the country from being able to build a bomb.

The size of Iran’s centrifuge inventory is a key sticking point in the talks that began in January.

Iran, which denies that it seeks to build a bomb, has insisted that it must maintain its current inventory to provide fuel for electricity and other peaceful purposes. It has 9,400 operating centrifuges and roughly 10,000 others that are not in operation.

The six world powers — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — want to reduce the number of centrifuges so Iran would require at least one year to attain a nuclear bomb-making capability should it decide to throw out international inspectors and race for such a weapon.

The Iranian website said the Obama administration has repeatedly given ground on the centrifuge count, starting early this year with a ceiling of 500 centrifuges, then being raised in negotiations to 1,500 and then 4,000.

The Persian-language irannuc.ir website is government approved, and is closely aligned with the viewpoint of Iran’s foreign ministry and national nuclear organization. It was unclear from the website, however, if the U.S. position is contingent on other details in a deal.

The White House declined comment Tuesday, saying it does not discuss details of the ongoing negotiations.

I’ve observed that Iranian government sources have proved more reliable commenters on the interim agreement and the ongoing negotiations than the Obama administration. This case proves it once again. It also proves that Iranian government sources are occasionally more reliable than the Washington Post. While the Obama administration has no shame, the Post at least ought to be embarrassed.

Via Jeff Dunetz/The Lid.

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