Monday, December 03, 2007

NIE - Iran Has No Nuclear Weapons Program

By Cernig

News is breaking in various media outlets (BBC, CNN/AP) of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran - it has no nuclear weapons program.

The PDF of the NIE's key judgements is here.

The NYT:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb.

...The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to be major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program, and they come in the middle of a presidential campaign during which a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program has been discussed.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

“Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible — prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program,” the estimate states.
The White House, of course, are concentrating on saying that Iran is still developing the "capability" to have nuclear weapons.

Well of course they are, along with every other nation with nuclear power and any kind of reprocessing on enrichment capability. That includes Canada, Holland, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Japan...

The NIE says that even if Iran reopened it's weapons programs and used it's "capability", it could not develop a nuke before 2013, and quite possibly after 2015.

But say it with me, wingnuts - Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

The White House is also trying to spin this as a success for their tough-talk and sanctions. Yet the Iranians stopped their program in 2003, before any of that had any chance at all to bite.

I would note that the latest IAEA report suggested much the same thing back in mid-November. In comments at The Glittering Eye, Dave Schuler and I discussed that very possibility. I wrote:
It looks to me, reading the report and previous evidence, that Iran probably had a notion of a dual-use program when it began, but didn’t get very far along the weapon line before the whole thing was exposed to the world, at which point it quietly dropped the idea of weapons from its program.
The NIE says that the only factor which can stop Iran making a bomb is a political decision from Iran's leaders. I would say that means not sanctions, nor airstrikes, despite the sop the NIE throws to White House policy. Iran apparently halted its weapons program as soon as the IAEA inspections began and well before there were any sanctions or threats of airstrikes from a Bush administration which was deeply immersed in planning to invade Iran's neighbour at the time. I would point out that Iran's leaders quite obviously appear to have already made their political decision back in 2003. Now, what carrots can the West offer Iran to ensure that this decision is permanent?

(Note - the last paragraph has been edited to make my meaning clearer - see the comments for further explanation.)

Update Kevin Drum wonders
Why were the key judgments finally released? Cheney didn't want them released, Bush surely didn't want them released, and DNI Mike McConnell told Congress a few weeks ago that he didn't want them released. So who did?
Kevin suggests Democratic Senators, incensed at being briefed on a classified NIE that was 180 degrees opposed to what Bush, Cheney et al have been saying even after they must have known it's primary findings. However, if I were a betting man, my money would be on Bob Gates.