A recently-declassified version of a national intelligence estimate, a consensus report of U. S. intelligence agencies has arrived at two conclusions. First, that Iran has not had an active nuclear weapons development program since 2003 and, second, that Iran is keeping its options open on resuming its nuclear weapons development program.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — 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 a major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program. Concerns about Iran were raised sharply after President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III,” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.
The key judgments of the NIE are here. If you want to get to the meat of the key judgments skip to page 6. It makes rather interesting reading starting there.
The bottom line is that the consensus of U. S. intelligence agencies is that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons development program and is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear weapon either with home-enriched materials or weapons-grade materials already in hand before about 2010. If it bears out, it is unabashedly good news—good for the U. S., good for the world, and good, IMO for Iran. The NIE doesn’t go so far as to assess the nuclear development program of the Iranians as benign:
We do not have sufficient intelligence to judge confidently whether Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program indefinitely while it weighs its options, or whether it will or already has set specific deadlines or criteria that will prompt it to restart the program.
We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.
That’s somewhat less good news.
What does this mean politically and from a policy standpoint? I think it adds further weight to the argument I’ve been making for some time: that an attack of any kind on Iran would be imprudent and is highly unlikely between now and the end of 2008. I believe it also suggests we should make more robust efforts at finding a formula that’s acceptable to the Iranians and not completely unacceptable to us for maintaining the status quo with respect to Iran’s nuclear development program.
I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’ll accept good news where I can get it.
That having been said I do have a question. Why has Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA been so off again, on again since 2003? Assuming that the NIE is correct, I can only conjecture that Iran has wanted the rest of the world and, indeed, its own people to believe that they were developing nuclear weapons, presumably to improve their bargaining position.