Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A distinction with a difference: update to our post "Lost in Translation"

In our previous post, "Lost in Translation", we pointed out that Reuters had gotten it wrong when they quoted Russian president Medvedev as saying that Israeli president Peres had "promised" that Israel would not attack Iran.

In an interview on Monday, Reuters asked Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon about Peres' alleged "guarantee". Ayalon replied:

It is certainly not a guarantee. I don't think that, with all due respect, the Russian president is authorized to speak for Israel and certainly we have not taken any option off the table.

As importantly, Reuters backs off from their previous story containing the misquote (which included a thunderous but fallacious headline) and provides a correct translation of what Medvedev actually said:

"Israeli President Peres said something important for us all: Israel does not plan to launch any strikes on Iran, we are a peaceful country and we will not do this."

This is essentially identical to our earlier translation from the Kremlin transcript.

Some of our readers have argued that although Medvedev did not use the word "promise" or "pledge", Reuters' characterization as such is essentially a distinction without a difference. We disagree. Although we don't know exactly what Peres said to Medvedev in their meeting (nor does Reuters), we do know what Medvedev said to CNN and there was clearly no explicit reference to a "promise", "pledge", "covenant" or other synonym. Reuters has now implicitly acknowledged this by dropping their earlier misrepresentation in subsequent articles on the matter.

As we suggested in our original post, representations of an Israeli covenant -- subsequently violated -- made with a Head of State and member of the UN Security Council would provide added fuel to an effort, perhaps by Russia, to whip up international support for sanctions following an Israeli strike on Iran. It could also provide diplomatic cover and justification for Russia to intervene in any ensuing military conflict.

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