It’s weapons of mass destruction again — not actual stockpiles of them, but a program to build them. At least that’s what the editorial in today’s Australian tells us: Iran has a “program of enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons”.

That might be true. But we don’t know that it is, and in fact we lack any solid evidence for it at all. As this morning’s report quotes “a senior official close to” the International Atomic Energy Agency, “Inspectors have not uncovered any concrete proof that Iran’s nuclear program is of a military nature”.

The tactic of the Iraq war’s proponents was to state their claims in language that did not admit of doubt. Not “we believe Iraq has WMDs”, or “here is evidence x, y and z for WMDs”, but “Saddam Hussein has WMDs”.

Full stop. No argument. Just keep repeating it often enough, and eventually people will come around. Now the same move is being tried with Iran.

So, for The Australian, Iran’s “weapons program” and “nuclear ambitions” are just matters of fact. The latter term also trades on the ambiguity of “nuclear”, which might refer to weapons or just to energy.

The anti-nuclear movement has been doing this for years, trying to lead people automatically from concern about nuclear weapons into opposition to nuclear energy, so it’s quite ironic to see the right pulling the same trick.

No doubt a nuclear-armed Iran would be a major concern, and at some point drastic measures might be necessary to avert that. But since Iran has professed itself ready for “serious talks” on the subject, and its officials repeatedly assert that their nuclear program is only for electricity, it makes more sense to continue the diplomatic route for now.

Even The Australian accepts that “The process of international diplomacy must still be given more time.” Italy’s foreign minister this week was much more forthright, saying that “If Iran is looking to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, it is not only legitimate, but can also clear the way for cooperation”.

Perhaps if the United States were to give the same signal it would be possible to defuse some of the tension in the Middle East.

Peter Fray

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