December 6, 2007
By Peter Brookes
With President Bush talking just weeks ago of the possibility of
World War III if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, the
newly-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian
program this week is nothing if not a shocker.
You can't help but wonder what treasure trove of intelligence
changed the Bush administration's mind. Because of the sensitivity
of such things, we may never know. Until it's leaked, of
But while it's the seeming consensus of the 16-agency U.S.
intelligence community that Iran "halted" its nuclear weapons
program in the fall of 2003, there is no outside, independent
There is still plenty of reason to worry about the current and
future state of Iran's atomic ambitions.
First, the NIE confirms Iran had a nuclear weapons program, of
"nuclear weapons design and weaponization work and covert uranium
conversion-related and uranium-related work," separate from Iran's
now-declared civilian nuclear program.
Way down in the two-plus page report, the NIE also mentions
(almost as if to hide it) Iran's "considerable undeclared effort
from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such nuclear
If true, this would mean Iran violated the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which obligates signatories to
declare all of its nuclear activities as well as foreswear the
pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In addition, the intelligence community is only "moderately"
confident that as of mid-2007, Iran hadn't restarted its nuclear
weapons program. Of course, a lot could have changed in the last
Next, the NIE assesses "with moderate-to-high confidence that
Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear
weapons." This means Iran could decide to restart the program at
any time. You can bet we won't be notified.
Indeed, the NIE judges the U.S. intelligence community doesn't
have enough information to ascertain whether Iran will "maintain
the halt" on the program indefinitely, or which criteria or
deadlines would have to be met for Tehran to start it again.
Moreover, ignoring U.N. Security Council Resolutions calling
upon Iran to cease uranium enrichment, the reprocessing continues.
(Highly enriched uranium is a fundamental element in the production
of nuclear weapons.)
Plus, Iran could easily develop uranium enrichment capability in
the open, even complying with International Atomic Energy Agency
inspection requirements while developing a parallel program for the
clandestine production of fissile material.
For example, while lacking specificity, the NIE notes: "Iran has
been conducting research and development projects with commercial
and conventional military applications - some of which would also
be of limited use for nuclear weapons."
More troubling, the report concludes - on its last line - that
the intelligence community assesses with "high confidence" that
Iran "has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity
eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."
So the question remains whether the Iranian work stoppage is a
short-term, tactical decision or a long-term strategic one.
While the NIE provides the basis for some (extremely) cautious
optimism, it simultaneously reinforces the need for deep concern
and continued vigilancce.
Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and
former US deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in the Boston Herald
With President Bush talking just weeks ago of the possibility of World War III if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, the newly-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian program this week is nothing if not a shocker.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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