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US Director of National Intelligence: No Evidence that Iran Has Restarted Nuclear Weapons Program

iran-missilesIt may not have the sexiest of titles but, for those digging for the detail in US foreign policy, the "Intelligence Community Annual Threat Assessment" is a must-read. Presented by the US Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to the US Senate yesterday, it offers the latest American evaluation of challenges from Al Qa'eda to the Middle East to Afghanistan to Latin America.

Here's one far-from-incidental passage: the US does not believe Iran is an imminent nuclear threat. Indeed, American intelligence has no evidence that Iran has resumed the weaponisation programme that it suspended in 2003:

We judge in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities and that the halt lasted at least several years. We assess Tehran had not restarted these activities as of at least mid-2007.

In effect, Blair was re-stating the US intelligence community's issued a National Intelligence Estimate of December 2007. This reversed previous American analysis: far from pushing for a nuclear weapon, Iran had halted its efforts four years earlier.

This didn't mean, of course, that Iran had stopped the pursuit of enriched uranium, since that was necessary for any nuclear energy programme. Nor had Iran suspended development of ballistic missiles. However, it was no longer seeking to put nuclear warheads on those missiles.

The December 2007 NIE has been repeatedly attacked by politicians and commentators, in part because it undermines Israel's projection of an Iran prepared for an offensive strike, in part because it removes one of the props for "regime change" in Tehran. Conversely, its conclusions are useful backing for a policy of "engagement", since there is time to deal politically with Iran before it resumes weapons development, let alone joins the A-Bomb Club.

It should be noted, however, that Blair also threw a bone to those who have criticised US intelligence for being too soft on Iran: "Although we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop them." Indeed, he was so cautious that I suspect he has made a rod for the back that he was trying to cover, namely that US intelligence simply doesn't know what is going on:
We do not have sufficient intelligence reporting to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain indefinitely the halt of its previously enumerated nuclear weapons-related activities while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart those activities.

Reader Comments (6)

Since the IAEA has stated repeatedly that there is no evidence to show that Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program in the past, one can only conclude that such accusations are made to prevent an easing of tensions and to manipulate public opinion in western countries.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMo

I think it's noteworthy that Iran allegedly started to think about a nuclear weapons program in the mid 1980s when it correctly observed that Saddam Hussein, with whom they were at war, was trying to build one. It is no surprise that Iran apparently halted all of its designs in 2003- after the US removed the threat of Saddam Hussein! The US, in a warped kind of way, may have inadvertently prevented proliferation!

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrisE


February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMo

The evidence isn't substantial. I was just positing that the IAEA's claim that Iran ended any ambitions for a nuclear program in 2003 fits into the elimination of the only real threat that would make it feel the need for one.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrisE

Such a claim doesn't exist in any of the IAEA reports. What you are refering to is in the November 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate.

Significantly, until that particular NIE report came out the US government was stating that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Even more significant is the fact that Honest Abe Obama also claimed a few days ago that Iran is today actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMo

Apologies- I was referring to the NIE. It is certainly clear in my mind that there is no proof Iran has an active weapon's program.

I think Obama is playing a dual game- all previous statements have seen him say "alleged" weapons program or "illicit nuclear program" (the latter term is on the White House website).

A couple of days ago, Obama did go so far as to describe Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon" but then corrected himself to refer to its "pursuit" of weapons capability.

The new head of the CIA actually went further.

I think taken with many other moves coming out of Washington, this may actually still be in support of a genuine diplomatic initiative.

The pragmatists in many countries have to jump through hoops in order to mollify the hard line element that, if they have the chance, will try and scupper an agenda they deem contrary to their assumptions.

At the moment I am prepared to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and believe he is guarding himself from the right wing by symbolically demonstrating that he is not underestimating the Iranian 'threat'.

I'm clinging to the belief that this rhetoric is (perhaps ironically) in support of a major engagement that remains, rightly a wrongly, a problematic political proposition in many parts of the American political system. Obama has to take this into account.

Maybe I'm naive- but that's my belief.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrisE

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