Iran news agency apologizes for ‘Onion’ poll spoof goof


Iran’s Fars News Agency has apologized to readers for running a spoof poll taken from the satirical American newspaper, “The Onion.” The satire item–run briefly as a straight news item on Fars Friday–cited a fake Gallup ‘poll’ claiming white American rural voters favor Iran’s lame-duck president Ahmadinejad over Obama.

“Unfortunately an incorrect item was released on our website on Friday which included a fake opinion poll on popularity rate of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US President Barack Obama,” Fars News Agency’s editor in chief said in an apology note published on Fars’ English language-website Sunday. “The news item was extracted from the Satirical Magazine, The Onion, by mistake and it was taken down from our outlook in less two hours.”

“We offer our formal apologies for that mistake,” the editor’s apology continued, before noting that it’s not the only media outlet to have been “duped” by the Onion.

“On April 25, 2011, The New York Times admitted they made the mistake of treating a fake creation from The Onion as something legitimate,” it said.

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Sunday funnies: ‘OK, who leaked our nuclear bomb design to Netanyahu?’

Brilliant, by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Rogers:

Cartoonist Rogers writes on his blog: “Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the United Nations last week and drew a red line on a cartoon bomb as he made a point about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Apparently, Israeli’s top secret intelligence comes from a Warner Brothers cartoon.”

(And for a smart take on decoding the numbers referenced in Bibi’s UN presentation, see this.)

(h/t Ron Kampeas, who tweets @kampeas)

Elissa Slotkin named top advisor to Pentagon’s Derek Chollet

Iraq expert Elissa Slotkin has been named Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, effective immediately, defense sources tell Al-Monitor. Slotkin, most recently chief of staff for the Defense Department International Security Affairs bureau, will become the top advisor to Assistant Secretary of Defense for ISA Derek Chollet, in the team reporting to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller.

Colleagues describe Slotkin as a very strong choice, who brings substantial on the ground experience in Iraq and the Middle East to the Defense policy team. Slotkin spent nearly 20 months on the ground in Iraq over several deployments, both as an intelligence analyst and NSC staffer.

She was a key member of the status of forces agreement (SOFA) negotiating team in 2008 while working on the NSC staff. She stayed on in the Obama NSC for the first several months to help run the president’s strategic review on Iraq. Continue reading

US delists MEK, does ‘not see as viable Iran opposition’ group

The State Department announced Friday that, as anticipated, it has decided to remove the controversial Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The delisting of the anti-regime group is effective as of Friday (September 28), and was largely made on humanitarian grounds, the State Department said.

“We do not see the MEK as a viable opposition movement,” a senior State Department official stressed in a call to journalists Friday. “We have no evidence or confidence the MEK could promote the democratic values we would like to see in Iran. … We continue to have serious concerns about abuses the group has committed to its  own members.”
“I can tell you this decision is made on the merits, not based on” the MEK’s high-profile US lobbying campaign, the senior State Department official added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to delist the MEK as compensation for the group’s almost complete evacuation of its historic base in Iraq, a US official told Al-Monitor last week. Continue reading

Israel embassy pokes fun at Iran news goof

When Iran’s Fars News Agency published a spoof article from the satirical US newspaper the Onion, claiming Ahmadinejad beat out Obama in a new Gallup poll of American rural voters, Israel’s mission in New York couldn’t resist making a bit of fun at the IRGC-linked news agency’s expense.

But the Israeli diplomats’ social media crew went way over the head of whatever poor, ink-stained Fars scribe unwittingly took as real the spoof poll (and apparently ripped it off wholesale). The diplomatic mission took to Twitter to notify Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself of the error:

No word yet on the results of the attempted Twitter diplomacy/editorial correction between the two arch enemy nations.

According to his latest stats, Iran’s Supreme Leader’s English language Twitter account @Khamenei_IR has acquired 6,101 followers, and has issued 3,069 tweets. But the Supreme Leader still, as earlier, follows nobody on Twitter.

Meantime, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has departed New York for Iran, following what is likely to be his last US trip as Iran’s president, and apparently to contend with more political troubles at home. Among them, the news that his press aide Ali Akbar Javanfakr was jailed in Iran this week during his absence.

Obama calls Bibi

President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Friday, a day after the Israeli leader called for a “clear red line” to be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

“The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” a White House readout of the call said.  “The Prime Minister welcomed President Obama’s commitment before the United Nations General Assembly to do what we must to achieve that goal.”

Full White House read-out of the call: Continue reading

Anti-Islam filmmaker arrested for violating probation

The Egyptian American man thought to be behind an anti-Islam video clip that partly incited weeks of anti-American protests in the Muslim world was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles for violating the terms of his 2010 probation.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian Copt based in Los Angeles, was detained after having been found to have violated the terms of his probation following his 2009 indictment for federal bank fraud, Thom Mrozak, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told journalists Thursday.

“I confirm his arrest and [that] he was ordered ‘detained’ – held without bond – at a hearing that ended a little while ago,” Mrozak told Al-Monitor by email Thursday.

Nakoula, 55, “was ordered held without bond during an appearance in United States District Court here Thursday evening,” the New York Times reported. “The news media was barred from the courtroom, but Mr. Mrozek said journalists would be able to view the appearance by videoconference from another court center.”

Federal court records show that Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months prison in 2010 for federal bank fraud. Nakoula was released in June 2011, a month before filming began for the low-budget production that was edited into the trailer for the “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked outrage in the Arab world after it was posted in Arabic to YouTube earlier this month.

“The bank fraud scheme included a twist that is probably pertinent to the current investigation: he committed the crime using a variety of aliases,” the Times report said.

(Photo: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was questioned about his probation terms in Los Angeles this month. Los Angeles Times.)

Bibi’s red line raises more questions than it answers

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toned down his ultimatums to President Barack Obama and focused on Iran, displaying a crude drawing of a bomb to dramatize his concerns about Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium in a speech to the United Nations Thursday.

“So how much enriched uranium do you need for a bomb, and how close is Iran to getting it?” Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly Thursday, pulling out a cartoonish drawing of a round bomb with a fuse. “This is a bomb. … In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium.”

Iran is “70 percent of the way there,” the MIT-educated Israeli leader continued. “And by next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

Still, that timetable seemed to allow for several more months to pursue international diplomatic efforts to try to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program before Israel would feel compelled to resort to force. And Netanyahu Thursday expressed new confidence that the Israeli and American administrations would be able to reconcile their different timetables on how long there is to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

“Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together,” Netanyahu told the world body.

“The two sides, the Israelis and the Americans, are trying very hard to narrow differences between the two of them,” Patrick Clawson, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor. The Israelis “feel comfortable that they are succeeding.”

As to what accounts for Netanyahu having toned down his camp’s recent rhetoric about the urgency of the Iran threat, analysts cited several factors. Key among them, the Israelis reading US polls showing the growing likelihood that Obama will be re-elected to a second term as US president. Continue reading

A Tale of Two UN Speeches: Netanyahu Tougher than Ahmadinejad

Barbara Slavin reports:

For the first time in eight years of appearing before the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a less controversial and hard-line speech than the leader of Israel.

Where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concentrated his remarks Thursday on Iran’s nuclear program and the threat he said it posed to Israel and the world, Ahmadinejad made only one reference to Israel in his speech a day earlier, noting “the continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation.”

Ahmadinejad did not deny the Holocaust, accuse the US of attacking itself on 9-11 or repeat his usual citation of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s prediction that Israel would be “wiped from the pages of history.”

Nor did the Iranian president mention that one nuclear weapon could destroy Israel – as former President Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once said – or even say that Iran would retaliate against an Israeli strike.

In fact, Ahmadinejad, who in the past has boasted about Iran’s entry into the nuclear club, did not mention the nuclear issue at all — or the draconian sanctions imposed on Iran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.  The closest he came to the subject was a broader complaint against the world’s “domineering powers” and his demand that the United Nations come under “new management.” Those themes were the same as he has stressed in previous years.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neo-conservative Washington think tank, wrote that Ahmadinejad, in what is likely to be his last appearance at the UN as Iranian president, showed his “soft side.” Continue reading

Israel’s Netanyahu urges ‘red line’ on Iran nuclear enrichment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a red marker and Road Runner-type cartoon chart of a nuclear bomb to tell the United Nations Wednesday where Israel would draw a red line on Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

“Here’s a diagram. This is a bomb. This is a fuse,” Netanyahu told the UN gathering. “In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb, this bomb has to be filled with enough enriched uranium.”

“Where’s Iran? Iran’s completed the first stage. …and they’re 70 percent of the way there,” the Israeli leader said. “Now they’re well into the second stage. And by next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

Despite the cartoon-ish graphics, which almost seemed to mock recent Israeli government near hysteria about the urgency of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear advances, Netanyahu’s speech “put the focus where it should be: on Iran’s program and not on President Obama,” David Makovsky, a Middle East analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

Notably, Makovsky said, Netanyahu revealed that the United States and Israel had opened discussions on Iran red lines.

“Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together,” Netanyahu told the world body.

The Israeli leader’s remarks Wednesday also seemed to allow that there are several more months–until the spring at least–before Israel would feel compelled to take military action if the international community has not reached a diplomatic agreement with Iran.

(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.)