News / Middle East

Debate Rages Over Iran's Nuclear Capability, Intentions

The Obama administration is wrestling with how the United States should deal with Iran, and in particular its purported ambition to become a nuclear-armed state. But, the challenge is all the greater because of the difficulty of getting solid intelligence on Iran's capabilities and intentions.

In late 2007, U.S. intelligence officials produced a National Intelligence Estimate, an N.I.E., that concluded that Iran had halted nuclear weapons work in 2003 and, as of estimate's writing, was keeping its options open about actually developing such weapons.

As recently as February, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reiterated that Tehran's nuclear intentions remain unclear.

"We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," said Blair. "We continue to judge that it [Iran] takes a cost-benefit [cost vs. benefits] approach to making decisions on nuclear weapons. And we judge that this offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran's decision-making."

Intelligence officers say judging capabilities - what a nation has - is a far easier task than assessing the intentions of what it might do with those capabilities. The 2007 N.I.E., which is the collective judgment of all U.S. intelligence agencies, sparked a firestorm of controversy, especially from those who wanted to see a more muscular stance taken against Iran.

At a forum of the Heritage Foundation, Frederick Fleitz, a Republican staff member of the House Intelligence Committee, asserted the N.I.E. was flat-out wrong.

"I am not convinced there was a halt that lasted any substantial length of time, if there was a halt at all," said Fleitz. "But if there was a halt, the intelligence community has to do a better job of explaining it and convincing people that they have persuasive evidence to that effect. They did not do that in 2007. If they are going to continue to hold to that position they are going to have to do an awfully good sales job to explain to policymakers and people on the [Capitol] Hill that there was a halt."

That sales job may come soon. A new N.I.E. on Iran is nearly completed, if not finished already. What its findings may be remain secret. But intelligence officials have said publicly that Iran can have enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb within a year, but that it would take two to five years to have a usable, deliverable weapon.

Security and Military Intelligence analyst Tate Nurkin, of I.H.S. Jane's publications, says the new N.I.E. will reach some new conclusions.

"I think any assessment today would probably be a bit more aggressive in its assessment of Iranian capabilities, suggesting that they are closer to achieving a nuclear capability than they were in 2007," said Nurkin. "Part of that is just because I think in two years a lot has happened. And some of it may be because the previous estimate took, I think, a softer approach to the issues. I also think there would be a real reflecting of the opinion that is emerging right now in intelligence community circles that this is a real problem, that three is not a good way out of this particular issue, that there are not many good options here."

A nation can have a nuclear capability without actually having a working nuclear weapon. In 1985, the U.S. Congress placed Pakistan under threat of an aid cutoff if the president certified that Pakistan had nuclear weapons. Pakistan repeatedly denied it had a nuclear weapon - and, technically, it was right. To skirt the issue, the Pakistani government had all the component parts for a bomb, but kept them on the shelf, so to speak, and did not test a weapon until 1998.

Jane's Nurkin says Iran may follow Pakistan's example by becoming a nuclear-capable state without becoming a nuclear-armed one.

"That is what a lot of people think is the best case scenario for this, that Iran stops just short, that they get all the technologies, that they can just assemble it, [but] they stop two, three, six months short of actually becoming a nuclear power," continued Nurkin. "Now, whether we would have the penetration of their program to know if they have reached that level is a different question. But they may very well let us know, 'Hey, look, we are right on the threshold."

The House Intelligence Committee's Fleitz believes the intelligence community should admit it was wrong in 2007 and say that Iran is embarked on the path to nuclear weapons. But he says that probably will not happen.

"Unfortunately I think the likelihood is that the intelligence community will try to split the difference," said Fleitz. "They are going to claim that there have been weapons-related developments, but there still was a halt, and you have seen leaks to the media since January where officials seem to be indicating that.

"We need an estimate that is going to talk about the dire threat, we are going to need good timelines, prospects for what this will mean if there is a nuclear-weapons program, and what we can do to roll it back," he added.

Iran claims it is only engaged in non-military nuclear research. The Obama administration is trying to round up more international backing for tougher sanctions on Iran to get Tehran to halt nuclear work. But what happens after that or if consensus for sanctions in the U.N. Security Council cannot be reached is not clear.

U.S. officials say all options, including military ones, are open. But a memo by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the contents of which were leaked to the New York Times, says the United States lacks an effective long-range strategy on Iran, including how to deal with an Iran that becomes nuclear-capable without becoming nuclear-armed.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid