PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: And, by the way, I read the articles in the newspaper this week, and it was just wild speculation, by the way. What you're reading is wild speculation, which is, it's kind of a – you know, happens quite frequently here in the nation's capital.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Speculation is not just a feature in our nation's capital. It's also happening in foreign capitals. Jefferson Morley tracks international headlines in his column on The Washington Post's website. Even as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced important progress in his country's uranium enrichment this week, Morley noticed an especially cool reception for American hawkishness in the European press, especially in Britain.
JEFFERSON MORLEY: Ewen MacAskill, in The Guardian, said that he didn't think any Labour government -- Tony Blair or his heir apparent, Gordon Brown --would participate in this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But The Guardian is explicitly left of center.
JEFFERSON MORLEY: Yes. But, on the other hand, The Times of London, which is a Murdoch paper and endorsed the war in Iraq, also said very much the same thing. Sarah Boxer, for The Times of London, said that this was not something that any Labour government would be able to muster a majority in their cabinet for.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I wonder, have any of the British papers suggested that these leaks were, in fact, targeted, that it may not actually be the case that there is a plan on the table to even possibly use nuclear bunker-busters in Iran?
JEFFERSON MORLEY: Le Monde in Paris was a little more dismissive of this round of reports and suggested that they were kind of a psychological warfare as preparation for the coming negotiations to indicate to the Iranians that the West was very serious. In Russia, you have a little bit of a different reaction. For example, in The Moscow News, which is an independent paper but politically connected, they quote one of the leading Russian nuclear scientists as saying that it's the Iranians who are blowing smoke. And this was also reflected this way in Itar-Tass and Novosti, two leading Russian news agencies, quoting scientists saying, “Look, the Iranian claims are really overstated; their capacity to move towards the processing necessary to create nuclear weapons is still in its laboratory stage, not in an industrial stage.” And so they were saying not to take it too seriously.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that makes sense, because Russian officials have taken a go-slow-against-Iran reaction at the U.N. and in these negotiations. So has China. So did the Chinese press similarly focus on diffusing Iranian claims and not spend as much time on the Hersh story?
JEFFERSON MORLEY: The Chinese press, which, of course, is state-controlled, focused on downplaying the story in all of its forms. They played the White House downplaying of the story very big, bigger than the original story. In the Chinese press over the last few months, and I'm talking about The People's Daily Online and China Daily, which are both English-language websites, they talk about the harm that war or even economic sanctions against Iran would take. China wants this resolved at the level of the I.A.E.A. They do not want the Security Council to take any action.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you have any observations on the U.S. press? Because it struck us here that the Hersh story got an awful large amount of play for being so anonymously sourced.
JEFFERSON MORLEY: It did get a lot of play, I think, which is a tribute to Hersh's record. But in the foreign press, I did not get the impression that it was as big a surprise, maybe, for them as it registered in the U.S. press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] You mean they were expecting this sort of thing?
JEFFERSON MORLEY: Well, the narrative of here we go again in Iran has already taken hold in the Middle Eastern/European press so that one U.S. publication was talking about the possibility of nuclear weapons being used didn't loom that large.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Jeff, thank you so much.
JEFFERSON MORLEY: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jefferson Morley writes the World Opinion Roundup for thewashingtonpost.com. This year, Hannah Allam took over as Knight Ridder's Cairo bureau chief after more than two years as Baghdad correspondent. This week, she traveled to Iran just as The New Yorker story was hitting the newsstands.
HANNAH ALLAM: When I read that piece, I thought, my goodness, mushroom clouds, radiation --let me get back to Baghdad where it's safe, you know? [LAUGHS] But then you go out on the streets and you do see that it's business as usual. Most people I speak with here, just ordinary Iranians, are saying that they think sanctions would be the worst-case scenario, and they add that that's nothing new for Iran.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are the media basically reflecting what the people you talk to feel, or is there some separation?
HANNAH ALLAM: Well, Iran's media is tightly controlled by the state, so that article made a big splash in the official circles. The Iranian government immediately responded by calling it psychological warfare. Officials were dismissing the notion that the United States would risk another preemptive strike in the region, given the results of the one in Iraq. And the press is definitely repeating the government's message that pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is Iran's right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here there's a distinct sense in much of the reporting that whatever Ahmadinejad says, his government is ultimately set on building a bomb. Any talk in media circles about that at all, or is that that kind of discussion simply off limits?
HANNAH ALLAM: That's a red line. There's no discussion of that. The only message both from the officials and the newspaper on that topic is that Iran is solely after nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and that the pursuit of a nuclear weapon is absolutely not in the cards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You used the phrase "red line." We know that means those are the topics that you really can't discuss in the media. Are there other red-lined subjects with regard to this nuclear issue?
HANNAH ALLAM: Hmm. [PAUSE] I'm trying to figure out what I can say, given that my conversation is probably being recorded [CHUCKLES] and I'm still in the country. [LAUGHING]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. Sorry.
HANNAH ALLAM: I mean, I have to follow those redlines when I'm here, and I really don't want to risk – I'm sorry - I don't want to get into what the red lines are. And, obviously, you know, it's any criticism of the supreme leader, it's any talk or revelations about any kind of parallel nuclear program that Iran might be pursuing, you know, those things just are absolutely off limits.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Hannah, thank you very much.
HANNAH ALLAM: Okay. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hannah Allam is the Cairo bureau chief for Knight Ridder. She's been reporting this week from Tehran.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, is Zarqawi an over-hyped terrorist mastermind, and a new kind of radio; do we need another kind of radio?