As much as I hate to say this, folks are misreading the most recent NIE. Yes it says that Iran halted its clandestine weapons program, at least for a time, in fall 2003. And, yes that suggests that Iran’s leaders are sensitive to pressure.
But the halt doesn’t given Iran a clean bill of health, it simply offers a path for Iran and the United States. I agree with SECDEF Gates’ excellent summary of the NIE and a substantial measure of US policy as he described it:
In reality, you cannot pick and choose only the conclusions you like of this recent National Intelligence Estimate. The report expresses with greater confidence than ever that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program – developed secretly, kept hidden for years, and in violation of its international obligations. It reports that they do continue their nuclear enrichment program, an essential long lead time component of any nuclear weapons program. It states that they do have the mechanisms still in place to restart their program. And, the estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons program at any time – I would add, if it has not done so already. Although the Estimate does not say so, there are no impediments to Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program – none, that is, but the international community.
Considering all this, the international community should demand that the Iranian government come clean about the extent of its past illegal nuclear weapons development. The international community should insist that Iran suspend enrichment. The international community should require that the Iranian government openly affirm that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons in the future and, further, that it agree to inspection arrangements that will give us all confidence that it is adhering to that commitment.
It is so nice to have an adult in the Defense Department.
Where I part ways with the Administration — although this isn’t absolutely clear from policy as summarized — is in two areas:
- “Suspend enrichment” has no technical meaning. I would define “warm standby” — where the centrifuges spin empty — as sufficient to meet “suspend.” The Administration, so far, has not.
- “Inspection arrangements that will give us all confidence” that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons could be devised, in my opinion, to accept the reality of some centrifuge work in Iran — although the Administration is probably right to stick to the Russia proposal for at least a while longer.
Indeed, given that we cannot verify “zero” centrifuges without the Additional Protocol in force, I tend to value inspection arrangements more than proscribed activities in placing meaningful barriers between Iran’s bomb option and an actual bomb.
Update: Jonathan Schell has more.