The IAEA’s latest reports on Iran’s nuclear program and congressional testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have all come to the same conclusion. While Iran’s leadership is “keeping themselves in a position to [decide to make a nuclear weapon],” as Clapper testified, there is no strong evidence that Iran has decided to restart its nuclear weapons program.
A special report today by Reuters provides new evidence to bolster the U.S. and IAEA’s assessments that Iran hasn’t yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon and has not reconstituted a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Most strikingly, Reuters has learned of an intercepted phone call in 2006 or 2007 in which Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading figure in Iran’s nuclear program, complains that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been stopped. The phone call helped form the backbone for a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in which American spy agencies expressed “high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003.
The Reuters report finds that intelligence officials have a high-degree of confidence that Iran has no secret uranium enrichment sites and an Iranian decision to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels will be detected by U.S. intelligence and IAEA monitoring mechanisms.
“I think they are years away from having a nuclear weapon,” a U.S. administration official told Reuters.
Intelligence officials tell Reuters that they were aware for “years” of the construction of the secret Fordow uranium enrichment site and that “They had a deep understanding of the facility, which allowed them to blow the whistle on Tehran with confidence,” a U.S. official said. Iran claimed when the facility was exposed that they were not responsible for declaring it until the facility was fitted for and began nuclear work.
“We are very confident that there is no secret site now,” a U.S. administration official said, but admitted that Iran may attempt to construct another covert plant in the future.
Experts speaking to Reuters confirmed the IAEA’s analysis that Iran’s efforts to procure nuclear-related and dual-use equipment and the country’s large cache of ballistic missiles are examples of growing capabilities that could potentially be used for nuclear weapons.
The debate over air strikes, Israel’s anxieties about a nuclear-armed Iran and election-year politics have all contributed to comparisons with the Iraq war, a war justified by inaccurate intelligence data suggesting Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and unsubstantiated claims of significant ties between Iraq and al Qaeda. Paul Pillar, a former top CIA analyst told Reuters:
There are lots of disturbing similarities. One has to note the differences, too. The huge difference being we don’t have an administration in office that is the one hankering for the war. This administration is not hankering for a war.
President Obama said recently that Iran with a nuclear weapon threatens the nonproliferation regime and U.S. and regional security. The Obama administration has ruled out a policy of containing a nuclear-armed Iran but has emphasized that a diplomatic solution is “the best and most permanent way” to relieve mounting tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.