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Bush administration embarrassed by NIE report contradicting claims on Iran’s nuclear program

Waseem Shehzad

Intense debate has erupted in Washington about why sixteen US intelligence agencies unanimously endorsed the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report on December 3 relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, which has openly contradicted (and therefore embarrassed) US president George Bush. For years Bush has accused Iran of working on building a “nuclear bomb”, despite vigorous denials from Tehran. The NIE report has confirmed what Iran had been saying all along: that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that its enrichment activities comply fully with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) rights and obligations. Iran is a signatory to the NPT, and under its rules is entitled to uranium enrichment provided that these activities are supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which Iran has done.

Although he was informed of the report’s findings last August by Mike McConnell, the US’s intelligence czar, who oversees the CIA and the US’s 15 other intelligence agencies, Bush still threatened on October 17 that the “third world war” would break out unless Iran was prevented from enriching uranium. At a press conference on December 4, Bush was clearly on the defensive when reporters grilled him about this threat. Resorting to outright lies, Bush said that he had not been told in August what the report’s findings were; he had only been informed that there was new information about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Only two conclusions can be drawn from this: Bush is either a moron or a compulsive liar. Is he so detached from reality that he failed to ask his own intelligence chief what the latest findings about Iran’s nuclear programme were, when this has been the most talked-about issue in Washington for years? Bush’s claim also went against what Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter for the New Yorker, told CNN in December 2006: that his contacts within the intelligence community had confirmed to him that Iran had halted its weapons research programme. Hersh said further that this information was widely known to officials, especially White House staff, for more than a year. Is it possible to believe that Hersh and intelligence officials in the US knew all this but not Bush?

The NIE report, however, suggests that a “combination of threats of intensified international security and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran” to achieve its security, prestige and goals in other ways could persuade its leadership to extend the suspension of nuclear weapons research. Some observers see this as leaving enough room for Bush to continue to exert pressure on Iran, although the pre-emptive strike option that he has repeatedly threatened has been dealt a severe blow. The Washington Post, the quintessential establishment mouthpiece, wrote on December 4: “the revelations not only undercut the Bush administration’s alarmist rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush’s efforts to ratchet up international pressure and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of the presidency.”

This is exactly what happened on December 17, during the visit of Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Muttaki, to Moscow. As he was meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, it was announced that Moscow had already provided nuclear fuel for Iran’s power plant at Bushehr. At the same time, Sergei Shmatko, president of Atomstroiexport, the Russian company that is building the Bushehr power plant, announced: “We have agreed with our Iranian colleagues a timeframe for completing the plant and we will make an announcement at the end of December.” Both Russia and China signed multi-billion dollar commercial agreements with Tehran within a few days of the release of the NIE report. The two governments are on record as saying that American threats against Iran are “unhelpful”, and that Iran poses no threat to anyone. During a visit to Tehran on October 16, Russian president Vladimir Putin had said that any US attack on Iran would be considered an attack on Russia itself. This strong statement caused consternation in Washington.

Putin has also been asserting Russia’s rights on the international scene; he has clearly signalled that Russia’s days of humiliation (after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin’s presidency) are over. From now on Moscow will stand up to American hegemony. The NIE report has obviously emboldened many others to speak out against American belligerence and threats. China’s ambassador to Washington, Wang Guangya, also intoned that the NIE report had changed the situation completely, and that any further moves by the Security Council against Iran must take this into account.

The NIE report says that Iran stopped its weapons programme in 2003. This contradicts the CIA’s claims of two years earlier: it had accused Iran of diverting uranium to weapons purposes. The IAEA had initially gone with this American assessment, but its inspectors could find nothing to support the allegation. Frustrated by the Americans’ outright lies, the IAEA challenged them to provide evidence or stop repeating the allegations. On several occasions IAEA chairman Dr Mohamed El-Baradei said pointedly that Washington should refrain from making provocative statements and give diplomacy a chance.

Though the NIE report undercuts Bush’s zionist-instigated policy, it still contains major inaccuracies. The fundamental lie is that until 2003 Iran had a clandestine weapons programme. Iran has had no such programme; IAEA inspectors have never been able to find any evidence of it. The only thing Iran can be said to have been guilty of, if one can use that word, is that it engaged in certain activities without notifying the IAEA. These activities were not illegal; they were perfectly legitimate under the NPT, but Tehran had not notified the IAEA about them. Iran argued that had it done so, the IAEA, under pressure from Washington, would have attempted to frustrate Iran’s legitimate rights.

This is in fact what happened in 2003, when Iran not only gave up its uranium enrichment but also allowed more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities, on the clear understanding that these were temporary measures and that the European trio–Britain, France and Germany–negotiating with Tehran over the issue would come up with specific proposals within a specified period of time. After two years of discussions, which were deliberately dragged out by the Europeans, Iran realized that it was being strung along. So at the end of 2005, when it announced that it was resuming its uranium enrichment activities, the Europeans were very angry. They denounced it as a “betrayal”, and said Iran was reneging on its agreement. Tehran had done nothing of the sort; it was the Europeans who had not negotiated in good faith. Even so, Tehran waited until the IAEA inspectors had had time to turn on their monitoring cameras before it resumed enrichment in January 2006.

The question of what forced the US’s intelligence chiefs to publicly contradict Bush needs to be addressed. One idea is that Bush is a lame-duck president and that important pillars of the establishment are beginning to distance themselves from him. This is true, but only part of the answer; the other explanation is that, stung by Bush’s belligerent policy (fully backed by vice president Dick Cheney) over Iraq, they were not prepared to allow distortion of classified information to advance the regime’s war agenda, which is essentially serving the interests of the zionist cabal. Writing in Time magazine (December 17, 2007), arch-zionist Charles Krauthammer insisted that America should “not cut Tehran any slack.” Other pro-Israel Americans – Norman Podhoretz, Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen et. al. – continue to make a fuss about Iran’s alleged threat, but the number of people who are taking this alarmist rhetoric seriously is dwindling.

The US intelligence agencies have not forgotten the spectacle of former CIA director George Tenet being used by the war party. Colin Powell, then secretary of state, speaking at the UN Security Council in February 2003, made wild allegations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction while Tenet sat behind him, clearly signalling that he backed such an assessment. Tenet has since resigned, as indeed has Powell. Both allowed themselves to be used by America’s war party, the neo-conservatives, and ended in disgrace. By going public in advance of any military action or other folly by Bush, America’s intelligence agencies have distanced themselves from such a development, and limited the possibility of being accused of not providing accurate information. Even this, however, is not the whole reason for content of the report.

It has much to do with Iran’s standing up for its rights and calling Uncle Sam’s bluff. If Iran had shown even a little weakness, the Americans would have piled on even more pressure. By standing firm and essentially daring the Americans, Iran has exposed the US’s pretensions. Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and militarily overstretched, not to mention its increasing economic weakness, the US is in no position to open another front, especially against a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran. Though the US has an enormous capacity to cause damage and destruction, it is the consequences of such actions that it does not have the stomach to take. Islamic Iran has the capacity to hit back, and hard, and the US knows this.

Another plausible explanation is that the NIE’s report has provided an opening for the US to initiate dialogue with Tehran. Bush may be too stubborn to do this, even though there have been several meetings between American and Iranian officials about the situation in Iraq; the idea seems to be to open the possibility for the next president to end this self-defeating policy. On December 22 secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced that she was prepared to meet her Iranian counterpart “any time, any place” if Iran stops its uranium enrichment.

The US likes to make such demands, along with conditions, in order to project an impression of power and control, but with Iran these tactics have not worked in the past and are very unlikely to work in the future. As President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran has repeatedly stressed, Tehran is prepared to talk with the West about the nuclear issue, but only when the West wants to do so on the basis of “friendship and cooperation.”

This is the position Iran must maintain, because it is not only logical and workable, but also dignified.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 11

Dhu al-Hijjah 22, 14282008-01-01

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