Make Iran an offer it might refuse

The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has upended the Bush administration’s policy toward that country. This could be a good thing, if it leads to some creative rethinking. Over the past two years the administration has made several intelligent moves in its effort to isolate Iran—keeping the Europeans onboard, rallying the Arab states—but it’s been unwilling to make a simple choice. Do we want policy change in Iran or regime change?

Imagine, for a moment, what the world looks like to Iran. The country is surrounded by powerful states with nuclear weapons—Israel, India, Pakistan, China and Russia. Across one of its borders stand some 170,000 American troops (in Iraq), across another are more than 50,000 NATO troops (in Afghanistan). The United States has been bitterly opposed to the Iranian regime for three decades. The current American president has made clear time and again that he regards the Tehran government as evil and wishes that it would fall, and Congress set aside $75 million last year to “promote democracy” in Iran. Now, if you were in Tehran, wouldn’t you buy some insurance? And in the world of international politics, a nuclear program is the ultimate insurance policy.

For Washington to threaten a regime with extinction and simultaneously expect it to disarm is a policy doomed to failure. Were we to be clear that what we seek from Tehran is only a change in behavior, a policy of sticks and carrots might actually produce results. [complete article]

CIA has recruited Iranians to defect

The CIA launched a secret program in 2005 designed to degrade Iran’s nuclear weapons program by persuading key officials to defect, an effort that has prompted a “handful” of significant departures, current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation say.

The previously undisclosed program, which CIA officials dubbed “the Brain Drain,” is part of a major intelligence push against Iran ordered by the White House two years ago.

Intelligence gathered as part of that campaign provided much of the basis for a U.S. report released last week that concluded the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003. Officials declined to say how much of that intelligence could be attributed to the CIA program to recruit defectors. [complete article]

Meet ‘the decider’ of Tehran. He’s not the hothead you expect

In the past, [Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has not been averse to talking to Washington. He gave tacit support to an ill-fated memo offering direct U.S.-Iranian talks in 2003, and a year later, he publicly endorsed discussions over Iraq. But times changed after Iran dug in its heels over the nuclear issue and found itself looking down the barrels of U.S. guns. The threat of war has abated after this dramatic week, but for the man who rules Iran, two overriding concerns linger: ensuring that his regime survives and ensuring that he remains at the head of it. As the National Intelligence Estimate itself put it, “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.” But Tehran’s decisions are also guided by one man, and anyone serious about understanding the sources of Iranian conduct needs to keep an eye on him. [complete article]

Iran snub of atomic pacts is denied

A former nuclear negotiator for Iran dismissed reports that the country’s current negotiator had brushed off previous agreements with Europe over the Iranian nuclear program.

Ali Larijani, the former nuclear negotiator, who is now the representative of the supreme religious leader at the Supreme National Security Council, said Thursday that Western news media had fabricated the comments, the news agency ISNA reported. [complete article]

See also, A smart side to US intelligence (Kaveh L Afrasiabi), Just 18% believe Iran has stopped nuclear weapons development program (Rasmussen Reprots), Bolton calls report on Iran ‘quasi-putsch’ (Reuters), and What we didn’t learn from the hunt for Iraq’s phantom arsenal (veteran CIA case officer, Arthur Keller).

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