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Analysis: A December Surprise on Iran Intelligence

Council on Foreign Relations

December 4, 2007
Author: Greg Bruno

Curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions has become the focal point of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy in late 2007 and the source of bellicose rhetoric among those vying to replace Bush in the 2008 election. Claims by Washington about Tehran’s intent to produce an atomic bomb underpinned a campaign to isolate the Islamic regime economically in concert with the European Union and other powers. Indeed, Bush invoked “World War III” in an October news conference, and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns just this week has been rehearsing these arguments (Reuters) in an effort to win Chinese and EU support for a third round of sanctions.

But the surprise December 3 release of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program has rewritten the script somewhat, upending Iran hawks in the administration. “It moves this beyond this administration’s time in office, and essentially gives more time for diplomacy, conceivably, to work,” CFR President Richard N. Haass told CBS Evening News. CFR’s top Iran expert, Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh, puts it bluntly: “It essentially removes the possibility of a military confrontation between the United States and Iran over the nuclear issue.”

Among the intelligence report’s eight primary findings: Iran appears to have “halted its nuclear weapons program” in the fall of 2003. If accurate, the timeframe is two years earlier than the intelligence community’s previous conjecture, contained in a 2005 National Intelligence Estimate, which formed the basis for U.S. allegations. That NIE determined Iran was “currently determined to develop nuclear weapons,” and intelligence officials renewed the charge repeatedly, most comprehensively in testimony before the Senate last January by the former Director of National Intelligence, John D. Negroponte.


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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.



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