Speaking on the CNN Sunday show GPS with Fareed Zakaria, GOP presidential hopeful and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman was asked about Iran’s nuclear program. In response to a direct question about using an attack to impede Iran’s progress — something he’s raised before as an example of when to use military force — Huntsman dodged and instead gave his assessment of Iranian nuclear ambitions:
HUNTSMAN: I think the regime in Tehran, I think they’ve already decided for themselves that they want nuclear status. I think they’ve looked at North Korea — you mentioned North Korea — and they have said, North Korea, nobody’s touching North Korea. They have, you know, a few crude devices. And compare and contrast it with Libya, and say Libya had a program. They gave it up for friendship internationally.
And I think they’ve decided they want whatever credibility comes with — with nuclear status.
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Huntsman did discuss real issues that could be informing an Iranian decision on building weapons of mass destruction, such as the “credibility” issue to deter attacks. And he, declaring himself “not optimistic,” raised important considerations and policy questions about the fallout were Iran to produce a usable nuke, such as potential regional proliferation and whether a containment strategy could work against a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.
But his assertion that Iran has “already decided” to build a bomb — and that seems to be, with the subsequent comparison to North Korea, what he means by “nuclear status” — is out of step with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and U.S. intelligence estimates.
The latest still-classified National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus opinion of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, reportedly concludes that there is no unified Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in testimony on Capitol HIll this year, responded affirmatively when asked if his assessment was that “Iran has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program.”
That said, a recent IAEA report raised “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.” But both a White House official speaking after the IAEA report was released (“The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program.”) and, over this past weekend, the newsroom and ombudsman of the Washington Post decided that this wasn’t enough to declare, as Huntsman believes, that Iran had resumed a full-scale weapons program.