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Friday, December 7

Democrats starting to wake from their slumber on NIE faults

I'm glad to see this because flaws in the NIE report on Iran are a defense thing, not a partisan thing. However; growing concerns about the NIE from across the political spectrum are shutting the barn door after the horse escaped. Publication of the NIE has given Russia and China -- and possibly Germany -- the excuse they needed to back away from applying pressure to Iran:
Doves find fault with Iran report too
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 7

WASHINGTON — The new U.S. intelligence report that says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is suddenly raising concerns among the political center and left, as well as conservatives who have long called for a hard line against the Islamic Republic.

Moderate and liberal foreign policy experts said that U.S. intelligence agencies, possibly eager to demonstrate independence from White House political pressure, may have produced a National Intelligence Estimate that is more reassuring than it should be on the potential risks of the Iranian nuclear program.

The report, made public Monday, contradicted the Bush administration's assertion that Iran has been secretly working to build nuclear weapons. It also found that Tehran, which says it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes, appears to have a pragmatic view and has responded to outside pressure and economic sanctions, in contrast to characterizations by administration hawks.

[...] Iran expert Ray Takeyh, a former professor at the National War College and National Defense University, said that although his own politics are left of the president's, he agrees with Bush that Iran's nuclear program is a continuing threat.

"The position I take is that President Bush is right on this," said Takeyh, now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Takeyh, who has long argued for engaging Iran in diplomacy, said the intelligence report was too easy on Tehran by not objecting to the uranium enrichment program, which many Western governments have alleged is meant to build the knowledge base to eventually develop nuclear weapons. The American intelligence agencies, in effect, accepted Iran's contention that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes, Takeyh said.

[...] Sharon Squassoni, a former government nuclear safeguards expert now with the generally liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, noted that the intelligence report said Iran suspended its enrichment program in 2003 and later signed an agreement allowing U.N. inspections.

But, she said, the portion of the report made public was silent on the fact that the Iranians reversed both actions in 2006.

The ability to develop fissile materials is the most important element of a nuclear weapons program, she told reporters.

Gary Samore, who was a top arms control official in the Clinton White House, agreed that the National Intelligence Estimate did not adequately emphasize Iran's continuing efforts to enrich uranium and build missiles.

"The halting of the weaponization program in 2003 is less important from a proliferation standpoint than resumption of the enrichment program in 2006," said Samore, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Samore said the report undermined Bush's warnings about Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and left Tehran in a strong position, allowing it to develop its enrichment capacity without a substantial challenge from the United States and its allies. [...]

Anthony Lake, who was a national security advisor to President Clinton, found no fault with the intelligence report. But he said a key message was the importance of taking action.

"While we've got more time, we've got to use the time, because the enrichment activities are continuing," Lake said in an interview. [...]
As long as I'm ragging on Mike McConnell today (see Israel to show US evidence on Iran's continued nuclear weapons program ...), I'll toss in this mention from the above LA Times report, even though Bolton is a conservative:
In a Washington Post op-ed column Thursday, Bolton alleged that many of the officials involved [in writing the NIE] were "not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department" brought in by J. Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

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