Intelligence report finding of no nukes doesn’t dissuade U.S. president’s crusade

UNITED NATIONS ( – A United States intelligence report that concluded Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and is unlikely to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb until at least 2010, has seemingly not changed the position of leaders in the West, certainly not the mind of President Bush.

Despite the report’s conclusions, the U.S., Israel, Britain and France have said more pressure must be put on Iran.


“We must keep up the pressure on Iran …. we will continue to work on the introduction of restrictive measures in the framework of the United Nations,” a French foreign ministry spokeswoman told the international media.

Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies Dec. 3. released the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for 2007, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.” The report is consensus opinion on the situation in the country, said William Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 and very vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy.

“What the NIE does is force the administration to take a step back, because the report says there is no ‘smoking gun’ in Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. Ritter said during an interview on radio station WBAI, New York City’s Pacifica Radio Network affiliate.

Unlike the NIE that led to war against Iraq, this one is good, because “people put aside politics” in constructing the consensus, he said. “This NIE is merely a copulation of the facts,” Mr. Ritter stressed.

Iran hails report as victory

Critics of the Bush administration said the new NIE rewrites the script on Iran’s nuclear program, upending administration hawks and complicating support for a new round of economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran.

Iran has consistently denied working to produce nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad hailed the report as a “victory.” The U.S. report supports Iran’s assertion that its nuclear program is for energy, not weapons, he said.

Mr. Bush maintains Iran still has a lot of explaining to do about the scope of its nuclear program. While appearing in Omaha, Neb., the president said Dec. 5 that though Iran’s program is not currently in operation, that fact is not as important as the disclosure that it once existed and could be resumed.

“They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept the longstanding offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation that is not in the best interest of the Iranian people,” Mr. Bush said. U.S. allies, particularly those on the UN Security Council, agree on the need for continued vigilance, he added.

“These countries understand that the Iranian nuclear issue is a problem and continues to be a problem that must be addressed by the international community,” the president said. A few weeks ago, Mr. Bush gave a warning that “World War III” could erupt, if there was not an intensified effort to prevent Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

Over the past year, Washington has come to see the containment of Iran as the “primary objective” of its Middle East policy, according to Vali Nasr, professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and an adjunct senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council for Foreign Relations. He offered the analysis in a piece for Foreign Affairs magazine.

“The U.S. holds the Iranians responsible for the rising violence in Afghanistan and Iraq; and senses that the balance of power in the region is slipping towards Iran,” Mr. Nasr said.

Mr. Nasr and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh noted that in May, Vice President Dick Cheney highlighted the focus on Iran while standing on the deck of the U.S.S. John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region,” said Mr. Cheney.

Why was report released?

Some analysts are even wondering how the report got released at all. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told the Associated Press Nov. 13 that the new Iran report would not be released publicly. There hasn’t been any explanation by Mr. McConnell on why the change of heart.

The recent NIE has set off a round of assessments among officials, policymakers, lawmakers, presidential candidates and foreign governments.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, argued publicly that the assessment challenged “some of the administration’s rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran and called for enhanced diplomatic efforts toward Tehran.”

Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, told The Final Call he was “puzzled” by the timing of the release of the report. “Perhaps this is a way for Bush to save face—to get attention away from his failure in Iraq,” said the Syrian diplomat.

China moved from clear support for new Iranian sanctions before the NIE was released to a more cautious tone the day after it became public. “I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed,” Guangya Wang, the Chinese UN ambassador told reporters Dec. 4.

Simon Tisdall, writing in The Guardian in the United Kingdom, speculated that the CIA may have spearheaded a “pre-emptive strike against the White House by intelligence agencies and military chiefs determined not to be suckered, as they were before the Iraq war, into producing intelligence to fit preordained policy.”

“The only thing that comes to mind definitively, is if it wasn’t released it was going to be leaked,” former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, a man who knows his way around Washington, told The Final Call.

“Because you can see how dangerous this administration is, Bush continues to threaten Iran, which is prohibited under international law, which is covered in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. The facts don’t matter to the president, but it makes it more difficult for him to continue with his designs against Iran,” said the co-founder of the International Action Center.

The NIE report should transform U.S. policy toward Iran, said George Friedman in a recent assessment for Strategic Forecasting Inc.  “For one thing, the probability of a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear targets is gone. Since there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program, there is no rationale for a strike,” Mr. Friedman said.

“We are struck by the suddenness of the NIE report. In any case, the entire framework for U.S.-Iranian relations would appear to have shifted, and with it the structure of geopolitical relations throughout the region,” he added.

Chris Toensing, executive director of Washington-based Middle East Research and Information Project and editor of Middle East Report, suspects the NIE came out now because the administration could not delay it.

“The contents of the NIE are clearly embarrassing the administration. I’ve really never believed that Bush wanted to attack Iran; and now he can hand over the issue to the next administration,” Mr. Toensing said.

Russia may now become the power broker in the UN Security Council as the Bush administration attempts to get the third round of sanctions against Iran passed, he added. “Russia these days is willing to stand against any U.S. position,” Mr. Toensing said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Itar-Tass Dec. 5 that Russia had no information proving Iran had worked on any military nuclear program before 2003. “That is why Russia will work out its approach towards a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran in accordance with the latest U.S. intelligence data saying Iran has no military nuclear program,” added Mr. Lavrov.

Deputy ambassador Konstantin K. Dolgov told The Final Call there has been no Security Council discussion on a new round of sanctions against Iran. “We have yet to be informed when such a discussion would begin,” the Russian official said.

The anti-war movement continues to eye Washington’s reaction, according to Dustin Langley, of the Troops Out Now Coalition and co-founder of the Stop the War Against Iran campaign. “I watched Bush’s speech on Dec. 4, and I was amazed to see someone so steeped in denial,” he said. “I think we have to be on our toes, because this crowd in Washington is definitely hell-bent on bringing Iran to heel, and we have got to stop them.”