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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid