NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell criticized Senator John Kerry's proposal to deal with Iran's nuclear weapons program, which he outlined during the September 30 presidential debate, as "much too accomodationist" and declared that "[n]o expert that I know of" supports it. But Mitchell misstated what Kerry proposed, claiming that Kerry advocated "trying to give Iran nuclear fissile material and see whether or not they will use it for nuclear energy."
In fact, the approach that Kerry supported involves providing Iran nuclear material that is usable for energy -- not weapons -- in exchange for Iran agreeing to verifiably halt weapons development. Many credible experts favor this approach.
Here's what Mitchell said during MSNBC's post-debate coverage, anchored by Hardball host Chris Matthews:
MITCHELL: Kerry was suggesting the Brits and the French and the Germans are right in trying to give Iran nuclear fissile material and see whether or not they will use it for nuclear energy. No expert that I know of thinks that Iran is going to use fissile material for energy. ...
MATTHEWS: What are you saying is wrong here?
MITCHELL: I am saying that he was giving -- Kerry, John Kerry, was much too accommodationist for Iran.
But the approach Kerry advocated, which has been taken by the British, Germans, and French, doesn't involve handing over weapons-grade material to Iran and hoping for the best. The agreement those three nations reached last year with Iran stipulated that Iran "could receive Western technology if it stopped its nuclear fuel enrichment program and accepted tougher U.N. inspections," including "intrusive inspections on short notice," according to a September 20, 2003, Washington Post article.
Indeed, the efficacy of such arrangements is the basic premise of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). On September 22, The New York Times explained: "The original purpose [of the NPT] was to encourage a system under which countries without nuclear weapons that signed the treaty were promised full support in developing other nuclear technologies in exchange for renouncing nuclear weapons."
Moreover, contrary to Mitchell's suggestion, credible experts do favor this basic approach. For example, in an article in the January/February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, Graham Allison -- Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, former assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans from 1993 to 1994, and author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (Times Books, August 2004) -- explained his recommended approach to Iran. Allison's proposal is similar to the approach that Kerry advocated in the debate:
The proposed strategy ... would focus on one objective only: denying Iran material from which nuclear weapons can be made. This would mean preventing Iranian enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of spent fuel to produce plutonium. With Russian President Vladimir Putin as his partner, [President George W.] Bush would remind Iran that in signing the NPT, it forswore nuclear weapons, and he would demand that Iran verifiably dismantle any emerging capability for enrichment or reprocessing.
To win Moscow's support, Washington should accept Russian completion of the Bushehr reactor, confirm Russia's role as fuel supplier to the reactor, initiate joint Russian-American research on new proliferation-resistant nuclear power plants, and agree that Russia become the secure depository for international spent fuel. Fuel supplied at favorable prices to Bushehr would be owned and managed by Russia and withdrawn at the end of the fuel cycle [to prevent spent fuel from being reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium].
Here's what Kerry said in the debate:
KERRY: With respect to Iran, the British, French, and Germans were the ones who initiated effort without the United States, regrettably, to begin to try to move to curb the nuclear possibilities in Iran. I believe we could have done better. I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes, if they weren't willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together.