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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More