NIE: Iran halted its nuke program in 2003 Updates

Sort of. Here’s some of the language in the report.


So the Iranian problem is less urgent than we all fear? Maybe, maybe not. As AJ Strata notes, you have to parse out what “high confidence,” “moderate confidence” and “low confidence” actually mean in governmentspeak, and what that means in relation to this report.

The NIE is quite clear. We know they stopped, we have no intel on whether they are still stopped or not. The reporting that Iran has stopped as of now is not accurate. Here is the scary part – Iran is still processing fuel! They don’t NEED to process fuel for Nuclear Energy. Russia has offered to SELL THEM fuel if they return the spent fuel so it cannot be used to make weapons. Note this when reading this next finding:

C. We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

Read the rest. My take is that we’re in a state of dangerous uncertainty all around: We can’t trust the IAEA, we don’t trust the Iranians (both with good reason), but there’s just enough doubt in the NIE to keep the B2s grounded and the Iranians on the loose because the Bush administration cannot base an attack or even another round of sanctions on this estimate, not after the intel failures in Iraq. No matter what the Iranians themselves actually say. That won’t stop the administration from trying to ratchet up the pressure anyway:

The Bush administration reacted swiftly Monday, arguing that while the latest intelligence report is “positive news,” they won’t abandon their strategy of applying “intensified international pressure” on Iran.

“It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” read a statement by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley about the NIE report. “It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen. But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem.”

Hadley urged the international community to “turn up the pressure on Iran” using diplomatic isolation, financial pressure, and UN sanctions. President Bush may speak about the new intelligence report findings in a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.

In some ways, we’re back into a similar situation to that we faced in Iraq prior to 2003: We don’t know enough to know what we don’t know about what the Iranians are up to. In the wake of 9-11, that uncertainty led to war. But with the Iraq experience still very much right in front of us and this foggy NIE on the table, it’s unlikely that the vaunted international community will follow us in a tough line now. Of course, much of the international community didn’t follow us then, either.

Am I lamenting this news as a disappointed warmonger? No. I just wish I could trust it to be true and to be dealt with responsibly by our leaders on both sides of the aisle and in the media.

Update (AP): This weekend the LA Times asked a good question posed recently on this very blog, namely, what’s behind the U.S.-Iran detente in Iraq? Their answer: reality.

In the last two months … there has been a shift in U.S. military and diplomatic attitudes toward Iran. Officials have backed away from sweeping accusations that the Iranian leadership is orchestrating massive smuggling of arms, agents and ammunition. Instead, they have agreed to a new round of talks with Iranian and Iraqi officials over security in Iraq. The meeting is expected to take place this month…

Pentagon officials and analysts cite several reasons for the change, including U.S. concern that provoking Iran could set off a confrontation that military commanders are keen to avoid, and the realization that better relations with Iran would help stabilize Iraq.

“I do think that the military and civilian leadership in Washington has by and large come to the realization that it’s going to be impossible to stabilize Iraq without Iran’s positive contribution or cooperation,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington…

Analysts say the changes are the most hopeful signs of improved U.S.-Iranian relations since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 and reflect a realization in Washington that both Iran and Sadr are powerful presences here to stay.

The fear of new sanctions is supposedly what’s driving Iranian compliance. Those look increasingly unlikely in light of the NIE’s findings so don’t be surprised if Iran suddenly starts showing some of its old boldness in the south. Or are they unlikely after all? The new Iranian nuke negotiator is a hardline nut who’s doing everything he can to alienate western diplomats. I’m guessing they’ll split the difference and push for new sanctions but weaker now than they would have without the NIE.

More: Cliff May, Victor Davis Hanson and Dan Riehl have more to say about the NIE. One thing I’ll add is just a reminder that our intel agencies missed the fall of the Berlin Wall and had no idea that Libya’s nuclear program was as advance as it was until Ghaddafi mailed it to us after we took out Saddam. He abandoned that program precisely because we took out Saddam, and that struck fear into him. There’s every reason to think that the Iraq invasion had the same (temporary) effect on the Iranians, but that the intervening years of our own divisions over Iraq and the broader war may have caused them to reconsider and unshelve the program. That’s an unknown unknown at this point.

More: From InstaPundit–

I just got an email with this story under the subject line “Your Zionist lies exposed.” But actually I think that’s a mistaken take, because I don’t think this story cuts that way at all. This story lets the Bush Administration take credit for pressuring Iran into stopping its weapons program by invading Iraq — meaning that the invasion really did end a major WMD threat — and also punt further serious action on the Iran issue to the next administration. Cui bono? I think it’s pretty obvious. . . .

Update: Tom Jocelyn pours a bucket of skepticism on the NIE.