In the aftermath of North Korea’s third nuclear test since 2006, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast declared that Iran believes all nuclear weapons should be destroyed. Many Americans would say this makes Iran hypocritical. After all, they have nukes, don’t they? According to a CNN/Gallup poll last year, 71 percent of Americans believe Iran has nuclear weapons. But here’s the thing: they don’t, and even our government admits it.
The poll was conducted last February, around the same time U.S. intelligence, Israeli intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency all reached the same conclusion on Iran — they do not have nuclear weapons and are not building nuclear weapons.
Why is there such a discrepancy between the public’s perception of Iran and the reality of the situation? It is because media members and politicians constantly exaggerate the possibility of Iran obtaining or even wanting to obtain nuclear weapons. Every quote from Tehran is analyzed for any indication of a change in their nuclear plans. Take this recent statement from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “We believe that nuclear weapons must be eliminated. We don’t want to build atomic weapons. But if we didn’t believe so and intended to possess nuclear weapons, no power could stop us.”
While Iran clearly states that they do not want nuclear weapons, the media strips the direct quote out of its context. Here is a headline taken from the website of Fox News, the highest rated cable news network: “Ayatollah Khamenei: If Iran Wanted Nukes, U.S. Can’t Stop Us.” The misrepresentation is significant. The United States was not even mentioned in the Ayatollah’s statement, yet Fox frames it to seem as if we’re being taunted.
Why did the Ayatollah include the ending, though? Surely he knew it was antagonistic. A fair guess would be that Iran is sick of being told what they cannot have. It is like when parents tell young children they cannot have vegetables in order to get them to want vegetables. The more we tell Iran what they cannot have, the more urgently they will assert that they can have them. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion that we should mimic North Korea by sending a message to Iran is preposterous. In fact, it is the opposite of what we should do.
Iran does not want nuclear weapons. They want everyone else to give them up. They have gone above and beyond the requirements of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Iran has been victimized several times by violations of that treaty, particularly when the United Nations Security Council attempted to freeze all uranium enrichment in the country. Continued efforts by the American media-congressional complex to demonize Iran will only hurt Iranian-American relations going forward. After all, who helped start the Iranian nuclear program in the first place? America.
A version of this article was published in the Thursday, Feb. 21 print edition. Ian Mark is a contributing columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.