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Did Obama Swallow Iranian Disinformation?

President Obama told [1] the United Nations General Assembly on September 24 that “…the Supreme Leader [of Iran] has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.” A fatwa is supposed to be an authoritative religious edict, and sounds like a guarantee that the Iran regime has ruled out nuclear weapons.

But the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) says [2], “In fact, such a fatwa was never issued by Supreme Leader Khamenei and does not exist; neither the Iranian regime nor anybody else can present it.” MEMRI Founder and President Yigal Carmon told [3] FoxNews.com, “There is no such fatwa. It is a lie from the Iranians, a deception, and it is tragic that President Obama has endorsed it.”

If MEMRI’s report is true, then the President of the United States has accepted a form of disinformation designed to make the Iranian regime look good, perhaps in order to make a deal with that regime. What do we know about this fatwa?

We do know that some in the U.S. media, including such figures as Fareed Zakaria of CNN, have accepted it as fact.

In addition to his speech to the U.N., Obama made a reference to the fatwa in remarks [4] at the White House. “Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons,” Obama said. He made this claim after declaring, “I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution” of the nuclear weapons issue.

The problem for Obama and his administration is that there is no written and verifiable record of this fatwa, and what it actually says or does not say. Instead, the supposed “fatwa” is based completely on statements attributed to questionable Iranian sources that may or may not have access to this mysterious document. 

As such, Obama’s claim appears to be part of the “propaganda, hype and disinformation” from the regime that former Ambassador John Bolton refers to in his Monday column [5] in The Wall Street Journal. 

It is shocking that, with the future of the Middle East at stake, Obama would accept and promote a claim that is highly questionable, and base his policy of engagement with Iran on what may be a blatant lie.

During the Reagan years, there was a concerted effort to expose and challenge Soviet disinformation and propaganda activities, such as the claim that AIDS originated in a Pentagon laboratory. Under Obama, it seems that questionable claims made by foreign regimes are accepted, rather than rebuffed, and made into the basis of nuclear weapons policy. In this case, as we documented [6], the alleged source of the fatwa, Iran’s Supreme religious leader, Ali Khamenei, is likely a Russian agent trained by the old Soviet KGB. He may know a lot about how to conduct disinformation and propaganda activities against the West.

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute says [7], “Perhaps it’s time for a bit less trust and a bit more verify. While Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa has been the stuff of diplomatic gossip for years, no one citing it has ever actually seen it. Khamenei lists all of his fatwas on his webpage, but the nuclear fatwa isn’t among them.”

He adds, “Every single journalist who cites the fatwa should demand to see it.”

But some of these journalists, led by Fareed Zakaria of CNN, have failed to verify and instead only seem to “trust” our adversaries.

Joel B. Pollak of Breitbart has dug into this [8], providing evidence that he says proves the “fatwa” is a hoax. He argues, “…the evidence on which President Obama is basing his decision to trust the Iranian regime is far weaker than the evidence on which George W. Bush based his decision not to trust Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.”

Here’s what others have reported on this subject:

Of special interest is the fact that Fareed Zakaria, like Obama, also accepts the propaganda.

Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, notes [17] that Zakaria wrote a cover story [18] for Newsweek on May 22, 2009, insisting that “the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral.” Zakaria also wrote an article [19] in The Washington Post uncritically quoting Khamenei as saying, that “the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin.” The title of this piece was, “The shape of a deal with Iran.”

In his 2009 book, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West, [20] Gold notes that Zakaria is “one of the most respected voices on trends in U.S. foreign policy,” but that his approach flies in the face of the evidence about uranium enrichment activities and nuclear warhead design in Iran substantiated by the IAEA itself.

The author of The Post-American World [21], Zakaria seems eager to usher in a New World Order in which dangerous regimes such as Iran develop nuclear weapons capabilities. Obama was once photographed by The New York Times carrying the book.

Indeed, Zakaria says [22] the West can live with a nuclear Iran. He says, “…even if one day Tehran manages to build a few crude bombs, a policy of robust containment and deterrence is better to contemplate than a preemptive war.”

So even if the Iranians are lying about their fatwa, according to Zakaria, it apparently doesn’t matter. He is prepared to accept Iranian nuclear weapons no matter what.