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Another Confusing Report About Iran’s Nuclear Capability

by @ 11:42 am on March 31, 2010. Filed under Barack Obama, China, Foreign Affairs, Iran, Politicos & Pundits, Politics

Today, the CIA is out with a fresh report saying that Iran is capable of producing nuclear weapons:

Iran is poised to begin producing nuclear weapons after its uranium program expansion in 2009, even though it has had problems with thousands of its centrifuges, according to a newly released CIA report.

“Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” the annual report to Congress states.

A U.S. official involved in countering weapons proliferation said the Iranians are “keeping the door open to the possibility of building a nuclear weapon.”

“That’s in spite of strong international pressure not to do so, and some difficulties they themselves seem to be having with their nuclear program,” the official said. “There are powerful incentives for them to close the door completely, but they are either purposefully ignoring them or are tone deaf. You almost want to shout, ‘Tune in Tehran.'”

We’ve seen this before, of course. The United States’ National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 stated that Iran had halted it’s nuclear weapons program in 2003. In February 2009, though, both the United Nations and the United States issued reports saying that the program was further along than previously believed. Less than a month later, though, the Director of National Intelligence seemed to debunk those February reports. But then, last August, we were told that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.

So, what exactly are we supposed to believe ?

Well, ABC’s Brian Ross reports on an intelligence coup that may help a little bit:

An award-winning Iranian nuclear scientist, who disappeared last year under mysterious circumstances, has defected to the CIA and been resettled in the United States, according to people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials.

The officials were said to have termed the defection of the scientist, Shahram Amiri, “an intelligence coup” in the continuing CIA operation to spy on and undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment. In its declassified annual report to Congress, the CIA said, “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons.”

Amiri, a nuclear physicist in his early 30s, went missing last June three days after arriving in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, according to the Iranian government. He worked at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, which is closely connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, according to the Associated Press.

“The significance of the coup will depend on how much the scientist knew in the compartmentalized Iranian nuclear program,” said former White House counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant. “Just taking one scientist out of the program will not really disrupt it.”

(…)

According to the people briefed on the intelligence operation, Amiri’s disappearance was part of a long-planned CIA operation to get him to defect. The CIA reportedly approached the scientist in Iran through an intermediary who made an offer of resettlement on behalf of the United States.

So does this mean the latest CIA report is more reliable ? Maybe, but even if it is, I’m not sure that it means anything or that it deserves the banner headlines that the media are giving it today. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and it does not say that Iran has, or is close to having nuclear weapons.

In related news, it appears that President Obama may be weeks away from making a major international push for sanctions against Iran:

(Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he wanted tougher U.N. sanctions in weeks against Iran over its nuclear program, and the world’s leading industrial nations expressed optimism that China will agree on possible next ste

Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented a united front on Iran at a joint White House news conference, saying they felt it was time to move ahead with tougher sanctions that their governments have been negotiating with China, Russia, Germany and Britain.

“My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring,” Obama said. “I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks.”

The problem is that it seems incredibly unlikely to me that Obama will be able to get China on board with a tough sanctions regime simply because China is Iran’s second biggest customer for oil after Japan, and China needs oil. Without China on board, sanctions will be meaningless.

At the same time, it’s unclear what other options there are. Neoconservative dreams to the contrary, war with Iran would not be a cakewalk by any means, and it’s unclear if the U.S. military is currently capable of fighting a third war.

There’s no easy answer here.

One Response to “Another Confusing Report About Iran’s Nuclear Capability”

  1. [...] last August, we were told that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power. Then, last month, the CIA came out with yet another report saying that “Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing [...]

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