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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Iran: A decade to defy proliferation norms?

The point of Dafna Linzer's front page story in Tuesday's Washington Post (August 2) is clear from the headline: "Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb."
A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.
In the next sentence, Linzer calls the National Intelligence Assessment (NIE) "carefully hedged," but reflective of a "consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies."

This NIE, however, is at odds with the political view held by members of the Bush administration.
Until recently, Iran was judged, according to February testimony by Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to be within five years of the capability to make a nuclear weapon. Since 1995, U.S. officials have continually estimated Iran to be "within five years" from reaching that same capability....

In January, before the review, Vice President Cheney suggested Iranian nuclear advances were so pressing that Israel may be forced to attack facilities, as it had done 23 years earlier in Iraq.

In an April 2004 speech, John R. Bolton -- then the administration's point man on weapons of mass destruction and now Bush's temporarily appointed U.N. ambassador -- said: "If we permit Iran's deception to go on much longer, it will be too late. Iran will have nuclear weapons."
The Post apparently got at least four (!) sources familiar with the secret NIE to talk about it.

Note, even the 10 year estimate is based on some worst-case assumptions:
The timeline is portrayed as a minimum designed to reflect a program moving full speed ahead without major technical obstacles. It does not take into account that Iran has suspended much of its uranium-enrichment work as part of a tenuous deal with Britain, France and Germany.
Just over two months ago, I reported that many security experts are convinced that the US will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Maybe this NIE will put any war on hold.

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