In my earlier Corner post today, I wrote that the AP’s decision to publish the text of a secret side-deal document to the Iran nuclear agreement resolved controversy over the accuracy of an August 19 story by veteran Associated Press writer George Jahn about how Iranians will gather samples for the IAEA.
I was wrong. Supporters of the Iran deal struck back today by claiming the side-deal text is a forgery — some said an Israeli forgery — because of the way the document is written and certain terms that appear in it.
The Huffington Post ran a story this morning that included the below annotation of the AP’s transcript by former IAEA official Tariq Rauf, who said, “In my personal view, this is not an authentic document” and is “likely a crude attempt to hinder the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and the Road-map.”
Rauf’s objections to technical details of how Iranians will collect samples for the IAEA are not persuasive and sound like nitpicking. However, he does raise other credible points about the AP transcription.
Rauf is right that Iran never refers to itself as “the Islamic State of Iran.” Rauf also is correct that this document does not use the normal IAEA bureaucratic prose. Based on my experience working with IAEA documents, I believe this strongly suggests the document shown to the AP was written by a third party. However, for three reasons I do not believe this means it is a forgery.
First, the errors and non-IAEA prose in the AP’s transcribed document appear to indicate a first draft written by a party other than Iran or the IAEA to resolve the Parchin issue. This is consistent with my assessment that the side deal documents were drafted by the United States and handed to the IAEA to finalize after U.S. diplomats were unable to resolve the issues of the Parchin military base and possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program during the talks. The AP says it was told by two anonymous officials that this document is a draft and “does not differ from the final, confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran.” I believe it probably is a first draft written by a political appointee at the State Department or an NSC staffer.
Second, to believe this is a forgery one has to believe George Jahn and the Associated Press were deceived by two anonymous diplomats or U.S. officials. I doubt this could happen to a reporter as experienced as Jahn. (MSNBC believes otherwise and attacked Jahn as “not a real reporter” for his article.) The AP is standing by this story and I doubt it would put its reputation on the line if it did not believe Jahn’s article was rock solid.
Third, claims by backers of the Iran deal that this is an Israeli forgery are nonsense. If the Israelis wanted to do a forgery like this it would be perfect. An Israeli foreign ministry or intelligence officer would never use the wrong terminology for Iran.
My bottom line is that the side-deal document transcribed by the AP is not a forgery but a first draft written by a third party that is essentially the same as the final version agreed to by the IAEA and Iran. The outstanding question is who wrote this initial draft. Given Secretary Kerry’s efforts in May and June to drop the issues of the Parchin base and possible military dimensions, I think it is very likely the side-deal documents were drafted by the United States and given to the IAEA, which agreed to make them into secret agreements with Iran to finalize the main agreement.
While some supporters of the Iran deal are likely to push the forgery argument to discredit Jahn’s story, since what he reported apparently is consistent with classified briefings provided to Congress on the secret side deals, this probably won’t convince lawmakers to support the Iran deal. But these arguments could undermine congressional support for the deal because they amount to yet another example of proponents of the agreement engaging in ad hominem attacks against anyone who disagrees with them.