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Iran Nuke Shocker: Clinton/White House "Tehran Not Building Weapons"

Sharmine Narwani writes for The Huffington Post:

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs have been on a roll since Friday defending Iran's assertions that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

You heard right.

In response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent claims that Iran had enriched uranium to the 20% level required for medical isotopes at the Natanz enrichment facility, Gibbs declared: "The Iranian nuclear program has undergone a series of problems throughout the year. We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching."

Latest from Iran (17 February): Psst, Want to See Something Important?

If that is the case, then how on God's earth can the Iranians enrich uranium to the 90% level required for a nuclear bomb?

Natanz, where the alleged enrichment took place --- or according to US officials, didn't --- is the site that Israel most threatens to bomb. The Jewish state claims that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Or maybe not. Last June, Israel's Mossad Chief Meir Dagan extended the date for when Iran could produce weapons grade uranium or have "breakout capacity" to 2014.

While the US media rallied to cover Ahmadinejad's declaration on Thursday that Iran was now a "nuclear state", Gibbs dismissed those assertions, responding that "Iran has made a series of statements that are far more political than they are. They're based on politics, not on physics."

So which is it? Is Iran working on a nuclear bomb or not? Let's look at the evidence most recently cited by US officials. Speaking on Sunday at a US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar where the US secretary of state is conducting a three-day tour --- in part to persuade Persian Gulf allies to support Obama's initiatives to contain a nuclear Iran --- Clinton said there was mounting evidence that the Islamic Republic was pursuing a nuclear weapon: "The evidence is accumulating that that's exactly what they are trying to do...Iran has consistently failed to live up to its responsibilities. It has refused to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful."

When asked to point to evidence of a nuclear program, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying: "Given the current trajectory that Iran is on - the fact that it still has centrifuges spinning, and the fact that it is unwilling to constructively engage the international community - we have to assume that Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme."

He continued: "Given all the steps that Iran has taken and all the actions that Iran refuses to take, we can only begin to draw the conclusion that Iran's intentions are less than peaceful."

If that is the basis on which the US is assembling a multi-national alliance to apply economic sanctions on the Iranian government, then it is deeply flawed premise. For one, it is virtually impossible to assess "intentions" when there is no real communication with the Islamic Republic, and therefore no way to anticipate or know its psyche.

A hostile stance toward US foreign policy is not a compelling barometer for assessing a country's preparedness to engage in risky belligerent actions --- neither is negative rhetoric or political posturing as Gibbs suggests. If that were the case, we would need to act on the perceived "intentions" of half the world's nations.

Secondly, for every one of the handful of allies who have bought in to our "intentions" theory, there are ten nations who do not see an Iran of harmful intentions. And it isn't just China and Russia that are hesitant. It is Brazil, Turkey, India, Qatar - important US allies - and the vast majority of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement.

A RAND report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force Directorate of Operational Plans and Joint Matters to take a fresh look at Iran's military, economic and religious strengths and limitations, last spring cautioned the administration to differentiate between Iran's rhetoric and its actions, an important factor in assessing intentions:

"Its revolutionary ideology has certainly featured prominently in the rhetoric of its officials," the report says. "However, the record of Iranian actions suggests that these views should be more accurately regarded as the vocabulary of Iranian foreign policy rather than its determinant."

The Report concludes that, in spite of its rhetoric and the concerns of neighboring states, Tehran does not seek territorial expansion or ideological exportation of its Islamic revolution. Instead, the report cautions that "the ideology and bravado of Iran's President Ahmadinejad and its religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei mask a preference for opportunism and realpolitik -- the qualities that define 'normal' state behavior."

The reading of events in the world is a major driver of US foreign policy formulation. Which is why these determinations should be taken out of the hands of elected officials and political appointees and placed squarely in the laps of area specialists of the non-ideological variety. There could be no better example of this than the Iraq WMD debacle, where American political ideologues pursued an agenda based on their "perceptions" and skewed world view rather than on reality and accumulated intelligence data.

And now we face more of the same erroneous logic regarding Iran's nuclear program, where "evidence" is based on perceived "intentions" rather than on indisputable fact. Which is why the number of nations willing to participate in rigorous sanctions against the Islamic Republic is miniscule compared to those against.

Worse yet, Gibbs' statement last Friday reveal that we know there is no real evidence of a growing Iranian nuclear capability. If they can't even enrich uranium to 20%, then they can't make a bomb --- period.

Reader Comments (11)

    In the American Revolutionary War the colonies needed help. Does it matter now that those who helped us give high-minded reasons for doing so but actually had ulterior motives or wanted to use us in proxy wars against the British empire? Pressure needs to be put on Iran. Somebody tell Gibbs et. al. to take their feet out of their mouths. If Iraq evolves into a democracy then finally everyone will be able to say that they are happy that Saddam Hussein is dead and no one misses his torture rooms and condemns the poison gas slaughter of the Kurds. Perhaps, some day in history, everyone, right and left, will be able to join together in condemning the reign of Saddam Hussein, WMD's or not.
    Going to war to defend people's human rights is not an official reason for war. Maybe it should be so that other rationales don't have to be artificially created.
    A State that, in effect, declares war on the world, even if they are bluffing, and even if they have no weapons, should be attacked. Hitler, in effect, declared war on the world long before he had the necessary weapons. He bluffed a lot. But eventually.....
    Early wars should be started over ideology. Late wars kill millions.
    A man points a gun at someone and says I am going to kill him. Everyone ignores him but fortunately the gun is unloaded. Everyone says he is just bluffing. They say go ahead. He pulls the trigger and there is a click but nothing happens. The man shows up next time with a prop gun with blanks. It makes a loud noise but no one is hurt. He has a catalog on him that describes real guns -- he hasn't yet purchased any. The same man shows up later with a gun and says I will kill everyone. He's still bluffing. He gets a credit card..... guess the rest of the story and the moral of the extended story...
    By the way, what about the definition of the Crime of Criminal Conspiracy. A group of people talk about a bank robbery. Not yet a crime. They develop a plan. Not yet a crime. They buy a map. Not yet. They take a first step in the performance of the crime. Now it's a crime. How far along is Iran in its conspiracies -- they have provided money to terrorist groups, they have pulled the trigger on guns against their own people...
    Have not crimes against humanity already been committed?
    They have the plan, the have some equipment, and they've taken some first clumsy steps toward the conspiracy... It's not relevant if the steps are awkward or clumsy or inefficient, or bungling. Still a crime. Still potentially dangerous to others outside who will eventually say they were always in support of the people who are already dead.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

For an interesting take on the Iran nuclear issue, download and listen to the following panel discussion: (Hour 1)

and/or take a look at the following article:

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Gelken

I would like to add another good analysis of the situation to Chris Gelken's links. 'Eliminating the Bar for War' by Peter Casey on Iran Review (15 February 2010), which amongst other points expands on Narwani's observation "And now we face more of the same erroneous logic regarding Iran’s nuclear program, where “evidence” is based on perceived “intentions” rather than on indisputable fact."

A nugget:
"A lot of this recent effort looks and sounds similar to the run-up to Bush-Cheney’s Iraq invasion. There is, however, a profound difference in the current administration’s targeting of Iran. It is essentially following Cheney’s model for preventive war – with one exception: It has dispensed with relying on any tangible facts to "make the case" for war. Instead, it has made the Iranian leadership’s intent the decisive factor."

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

"A State that, in effect, declares war on the world, even if they are bluffing, and even if they have no weapons, should be attacked." Okaaay, Doug... Warmongering moron.

Try Israel.

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAquarius


Well said!!

Hitler clearly laid out his ideas and plans in a book. Ahmadinejad has told us all his thoughts - however he is not smart enough to write a book. It would be good if he was - because then at least, sometime in the future, people would have the book to be able to say " He tried to do what he said he wanted to do - but we were too frightened to stop him early enough, just like we were with Hitler.


February 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

i dont beleive iran has has the experise and the "know how" to make a nuclear bomb but i do beleive in these new sanctions against irgc for human rights abuses

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaliheh[tehranweekly]

irans military is a very weak one~this i know

February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaliheh[tehranweekly]

Good analysis Scott. Thanks for the post. I couldn't agree more...let the experts do the analysis and keep the politicians out of it.

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBijan

Hello everybody,
First of all, sorry for my inelegant formulations, spelling mistakes etc.

I disagree with the article on two important points. If I got her right, the author is implying that:
(a) There is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a military nuclear program.
(b) The „logic“ in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program is the same as in case of Iraq.

Before starting, a short remark about „the way to the Bomb“.
Any nation that aspires to possess an independent, indigenous nuclear capability must engage on three fronts:
(1.) It must master the nuclear cycle, which involves enriching uranium or plutonium to weapons-grade levels.
(2.) It must develop the appropriate means of delivery, e.g. ballistic missiles.
(3.) It must develop the necessary tools to weaponise the enriched uranium and plutonium.
We'll have to see what we know about Iran's aspirations on this three fields.

The fact that the intelligence assessments were wrong on Iraq, does not automatically make them wrong in the case of Iran. (Actually the American and British intelligence probably knew that they had no clear evidence, but were pressed to cook something up in the case of Iraq; the French and the German intelligence never claimed that Iraq had loads of WMD or hidden WMD production sites. Maybe you remember there was some „disagreement“ between France/Germany and USA/Britain which lead to the infamous renaming of French Fries to Freedom Fries in the US.) The French non-prolifeation expert Bruno Tertrais noted in his book Iran, la prochaine guerre (2007) that the Iranian dossier is of a different order: it actually consists of “a set of certainties” that did not exist in the case of Iraq. As far as I can remember, he cites three reasons for this assertion:

– Iran's program is conducted in many facilities that can be observed in satellite imagery, while in the case of Iraq there was a presumption of – but no evidence of the existence or location of – clandestine installations.
– Iran's program relies significantly on supplies that came from the A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network that was dismantled in 2003. Khan's network has supplied the IAEA with a wealth of detail on its nuclear transfers to Iran, and this has provided a clear picture of what Iran is pursuing through the technology it acquired from Khan.
– The most worrying details of Iran's nuclear program have come from the periodic reports of the IAEA – the same IAEA that asserted in early 2003, at the risk of enraging Washington, that Iraq did not appear to have resumed its nuclear program after 1991. The IAEA is not known for the production of “sexed-up dossiers”.

Ok, something we know from the IAEA about Iran's nuclear program, although Iran has tried to conceal its nuclear programme from the world and IAEA for eighteen years – in clear violation of the NPT to which it is a signatory – well, to put it not so mildly, Iran has lied like a trooper, thus arousing quite high suspicion.

Concerning (1.)
– Iran seeks to enrich uranium, although it has no nuclear power plants that require the nuclear fuel it is trying to produce.
– Iran's facility at Arak is bound to produce plutonium, which can be explained, most plausibly by a desire to make weapons-grade fissile material (its declared goal was first to use enriched uranium to generate its nuclear power plants, later it was declared to be run for “medial purposes” – the whole nuclear program seems to be about “medial purposes” (-:)
– Iran is doing research on laser enrichment technology which is very expensive and actually makes only sense as part of a military nuclear program.

Concering (2.)
– Iran is working on an aerospace program. Lately shooting some worms and a rat into the orbit. The technology is the same for intercontinental missiles.
– In March the Ukrainian President Juschtschenko confirmed that the predecessor government sold twelve cruise missiles of the type x-55 to Iran. They have a range of 3000 km and are constructed to carry nuclear warheads.

Concerning (3.) (just some points (!) to note)
– Iran has the blueprint to build a nuclear weapon.
– Iran is said to be building an underground shaft which includes a 400-meter-deep tunnel and several control points to test explosives with military applications.
– Iran has conducted studies on high explosives and multiple detonators, which are suited for nuclear weapons.
– Iran has tried to build uranium metal hemispheres and has conducted tests on „a full-scale hemispherical, converging explosively driven shock system“.
– Iran has conducted studies – documented by a video that the IAEA deemed credible – to install a non-conventional warhead on its ballistic missile, the Shahab-3.
– Iranian scientists have conducted studies on the progression of the shock wave caused by teh Trinity test – the prototype of a plutonium bomb later dropped on Nagasaki.
– It is highly probable that Iran is working on a warhead design based on two point implosion
– All the above activities – especially those with clear military applications – have administrative interlinks.

I think that there are currently two groups arguing that the suspicion against Iran is unfounded – besides the IRI fan club of people like the Leveretts. The first group is the “there is no proof” faction. The second group thinks that it's all about war propaganda.
I think taking a close look at the findings of the IAEA shows that there is enough evidence for the thesis that Iran is running a military nuclear program. Of course, we will never stumble upon a sign in the Iranian desert saying: “Welcome to Iran's hidden nuclear programme. Please press the bomb sign for entrance.” It's not about having a clear proof for Iran's ambitions, but about the overall assessment of the clues we have.
As regards the second faction. Well, in light of the fact that countries like Germany and France, which aren't really among the nations which have a feeling of inner bliss when thinking about waging a war, are as concerned about the Iranian nuclear program as the US, I can't see that the second group has good arguments on their side. Probably they are influenced by the political atmosphere of the US with its (un- or misinformed) ideological warmongers in Congress etc. In Continental Europe political discourse is not that belligerent.

As regards the question what the Islamic regime is up to.
That's the hard question (-: Some days ago, I talked about this issue with some members of Parliament and we all were scratching our heads. Although we don't have enough information about the inner power circle in control of the nuclear program, I think that the people in Washington and elsewhere who see another Holocaust on the horizon overact. Probably the priority of most decision makers in Iran is preserving the IRI and their sinecures. But there also seems to be a radical circle with a very aggressive antisemitic ideology whose rationality I wouldn't count on. I hope these people won't sit near to the “fire button” in case Iran should acquire nuclear weapons.
Besides the question what Iran would do, if its nuclear program can't be stopped, another open question is whether it is hell-bend on getting “the Bomb” or just wants to have the capability to build it within short time, i.e. wants the “bomb on the shelf”. Either way, its policy has a lot to do with Realpolitik and risk management. The people within the regime know that the possession of a nuclear arms capability would make the IRI unattackable and that it would strengthen it's strategic position in the Middle East and beyond. It's not about territorial expansion as in the 80th, but about expansion of influence. And, it's not only about he Middle East: With its missile program making progress Iran could soon be able to reach European capitals, thereby shifting the balance of power in its own favor.

February 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSon of Socrates

If Iran is building nuclear weapons then why do the media and the politicians exaggerate so much instead of just telling the truth? For example, the media is silent about how the whole "wipe Israel off the map" thing was really a mistranslation (google it if you haven't heard) and it always frames any story about Iran like Ahmadinejad is the main leader when Khameini has most of the power and even runs Iran's nuclear energy program. Also, Khameini has a fatwa out against nuclear weapons and is accountable to the Assembly of Experts which can dismiss him if he among other things is unfaithful to Islam. For a cleric to make up a fatwa and then violate it would be a clear act of hypocrisy that would get him thrown out of office. Khameini's not going to sacrifice his whole political career just to get nuclear weapons. Now if he rescinds his fatwa then we have some reason to worry, but not for a few years because he'd at least have to make it look like he didn't plan on nuclear weapons until after he got rid of the fatwa.

It's clear to anyone who has done their research that we are being lied to again. It's appalling how few of those people there are.

February 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlton

Whenever Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denies that Iran seeks to possess nuclear weapons he says that weapons of mass destruction are haram, or forbidden by Islam, in the Islamic republic.

In September 2004, as the IAEA Governing Council was debating Iran's nuclear program, a government spokesman announced that Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the use of nuclear weapons.

Such a fatwa -- which was never published in any Iranian newspaper -- and similar statements are meant to persuade non-Muslims that Islam forbids the use of such weapons, but they carry no legal weight in Iran. In addition, Shi'ite tradition holds that only sources of emulation (marja) may issue religious rulings -- and Khamenei is not a marja. Although politically he is Iran's supreme leader, religiously he is considered a minor ayatollah.

March 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

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