NEWS & ANALYSIS: Evolving perspectives on Iran

Time has come for U.S. to pursue talks with Iran

The American intelligence report that makes the option of a military strike against Iran – and possibly the next dose of sanctions – less likely to materialize gives us an important time-out to try a new avenue vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic.

That route would center on diplomacy aimed at neutralizing Tehran’s motivation to further pursue the development of nuclear arms. For some time now, Iran has held an internal debate – which sometimes reaches the Iranian media – on how far Tehran can go in defying international pressure to abandon its nuclear program. [complete article]

Europeans see murkier case for sanctions

The Bush administration’s new intelligence assessment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is likely to complicate efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council, European officials said Monday.

The officials, who declined to be identified under normal diplomatic rules, stressed that their governments were formally studying the new assessment of Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities by the administration’s intelligence agencies.

But they added that they were struggling to understand why the United States chose to issue the report just two days after the six powers involved in negotiating with Iran — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — had decided to press ahead with a new Security Council resolution.

“Officially, we will study the document carefully; unofficially, our efforts to build up momentum for another resolution are gone,” said one European official involved in the diplomacy. [complete article]

Anatomy of an about-face on Iran

The new intelligence was considered compelling enough to call it to Bush’s attention in August. In a news conference at the White House on Tuesday, Bush said that the nation’s intelligence director, J. Michael McConnell, “came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ ”

Bush said that McConnell did not provide details. “He didn’t tell me what the information was,” Bush said. “He did tell me it was going to take awhile to analyze.”

The decision to hold those details back has come under question because Bush and others in the administration continued in the succeeding months to use heated rhetoric to warn of the dangers posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. In October, Bush described that scenario as potentially pointing to World War III.

But U.S. intelligence officials said they felt compelled to employ that level of caution in part because of the searing experience surrounding the war in Iraq.

“Back in 2002, one of the knocks on the process at the time was that information was not vetted by analysts and was being rushed into the Oval Office,” said the senior U.S. intelligence official.

That experience showed, the official said, that bringing unvetted intelligence to senior officials could backfire.

This time, even as they vetted the new intelligence and launched into major revisions of the estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, intelligence officials said, they deliberately shielded analysts from administration officials and policymakers. [complete article]

Spies show Bush a way forward on Iran

The NIE does refer to the role of “international pressures” in halting Iran’s program, but contrary to Hadley’s argument, it suggests that the decision to halt weaponization was not prompted by threats and pressure. The key finding of the estimate also indicates that the intelligence community believes Iran is more likely to forego the nuclear weapons option if the United States deals with its security and political interests than if it relies on threats and sanctions.

The estimate concludes that the halt in the weapons program was ordered “in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work”. That is a reference to the situation facing the Iranian leadership in 2003, when its acquisition of nuclear technology from Pakistani Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network had already been exposed but there was no threat of either military action or economic sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue.

A major feature of the diplomatic situation in the autumn of 2003 was the willingness of Britain, France and Germany to negotiate an agreement with Iran on a wider range of security issues, based on voluntary Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment. [complete article]

Diplomatic “disaster” led to Iran intel spill?

The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nukes has been in the works for months. So why did it get released now? Various commentators are guessing that hardening opposition had “caused Cheney and his team to fold their cards,” or that a Democratic-controlled Congress pushed the Director of National Intelligence, or that the spooks are trying to undermine Bush. The latter two, respectively, appear to be untrue and ridiculous, and Cheney’s team folding its cards sounds unlikely in the extreme.

Another possibility exists, though: the Bush administration may have wanted to salvage negotiations with Iran after the “disaster” this weekend in London. This story has been largely lost in the NIE furor, but the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told diplomats that all proposals made in previous negotiations over the nuclear issue were irrelevant – that the diplomatic efforts to date were for naught. This led to intimations that the negotiations would shut down, with one official quoted saying “we can’t do business with these guys at this point.” [complete article]

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