What exactly did the Iranians tell European diplomats last month in Paris at talks about Iran's nuclear program?
Yesterday Undersecretary of State John Bolton spoke on the Iran issue at a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute in Washington. I wanted to be there. But I wasn't in town.
According to press accounts, Bolton said that the Iranians told their German, French and British counterparts that they could produce enough uranium for a bomb within a year, and that they'd do so if the Europeans didn't back down in their demands that the Iranians dismantle their nuclear program.
In other words, the Iranians threatened that they'd make a bomb within a year if the Europeans didn't back off.
The Post says, delicately, that "there were discrepancies between Bolton's account and those of European and U.S. diplomats, who said that Iran's deputy negotiator, Hoseyn Moussavian, said Iran could start enriching uranium within a year, but it would take longer to enrich enough for a weapon."
In a small note on page A4 in USA Today Barbara Slavin puts the point a little more squarely, saying that "two diplomats from two of the European countries at the Paris talks said they were unaware of such a threat. The diplomats ... were not present at the talks but were briefed on them..."
(Slavin, at least according to the invitation, was one of the panelists at the Hudson event.)
Now, my point in noting this discrepancy (to use the Post's delicate phrasing) is not to gainsay the seriousness of the challenge of Iran's nuclear program or to paint them with white hats. But US and European officials seem to be saying, about as clearly as they can, that what Bolton says happened did not happen. And that fact should have everyone's attention.
Mr. Bolton is probably more guilty than any other member of this administration of repeated, public mistatements, exaggerations and distortions of intelligence about Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba and other countries regarding weapons of mass destruction and proliferation issues.
The big story here is not what Bolton said -- at least not in the sense of considering it presumptively factual. It is rather that while we're in the midst of the administration's passing off its past sins on admittedly blameworthy intelligence agencies, it is continuing to practice the same sort of manipulative and deceitful practices that have already caused the nation such grief.
Tough words? Sure. But given what we've witnessed to date I cannot see how they are not fair. Nor can I understand how such repeat performances don't garner more attention.