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Thursday, October 05, 2006

West Rejects Iranian Proposal

U.S., British and French officials yesterday rejected an Iranian proposal to allow a French consortium to oversee nuclear fuel production in Iran, the New York Times reported. The offer was merely an effort to buy time and to divide members of the U.N. Security Council, who may soon consider whether to impose economic sanctions against Tehran, several officials said (see GSN, Oct. 3).

“There is nothing substantive behind [the proposal],” said a senior French official. “This is not the first time the Iranians have tried to divide the international community.”

Another senior European official said the proposal “seemed to have the intention of distracting” (Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, Oct. 4).

“The idea of a consortium is actually an old idea. It has been around for a while and the Iranians have floated it before,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to Cairo. “I fear that this may instead, therefore, be a stalling technique because we don’t want to get to the basic issue which is that Iran has to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing in order to begin negotiations” for a long-term solution to the nuclear crisis, she added.

Rice said Iran needs to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities soon or the Security Council would act to back up its demand earlier this year that Iran implement such a freeze.

“The international community is running out of time because soon its own credibility in terms of enforcing its own resolutions will be … a matter of question,” she said (Sylvie Lanteaume, Agence France-Presse/MiddleEastOnline, Oct. 4).

The United Kingdom was preparing to push for sanctions within the next two weeks because it appears Iran is unwilling to suspend its nuclear program, a British official told reporters yesterday.

The foreign ministers of the council’s permanent members have “agreed that these steps should be incremental, they should be proportionate and they should be reversible if the Iranians take the steps that are required of them” (Ewen MacAskill, London Guardian, Oct. 4).
U.S. Intelligence Assessment

Meanwhile in Washington, the top U.S. intelligence official restated his assessment that Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and would do achieve that goal in as few as four years if Tehran continues its current program.

“We do not have any fast facts that could demonstrate to you a particular date by which we are certain Iran will have a nuclear weapon, said National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. “But yes, it is our judgment, based on all the information available to us, that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons and, secondly, that they are on a path to achieve that within the next several years.”

“The estimate that we have made is that somewhere between 2010 and 2015 is when we judge Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon if it continues on its current course,” he added.

One former U.S. official, however, said that assessment lacked a strong basis.

“If there was really hard evidence that Iran was building a nuclear weapon, I think that we would know about it for sure,” said Gary Sick, who has worked on the National Security Council for three presidents and is now at Columbia University.

“I think there would be a lot of evidence from the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. There would be specific evidence of specific sites that need to be visited. There would be photographic evidence, and the like,” he said. “We do not have any of that. That does not prove that they are not building a weapon or that they would not in the fullness of time decide to do that. But I think that we are talking about intentions here. And I, for one, find it not easy to read Iran's intentions.”

Negroponte said the evidence of Iranian nuclear weapon ambitions is persuasive, according to Voice of America.

“You have to have insights into intention, you have to look at past behavior,” he said. “I mean, among the factors we consider in the case of Iran is that in the past they’ve had a secret military program until it was revealed. We know that for 20 or 30 years Iran has been interested in acquiring nuclear capability. You can judge from their procurement practices. There is a whole variety of indicators that you can look at to get some sense of exactly what the intentions of a country are.”

He said that U.S. intelligence abilities have improved since the Iraq war began, giving him more confidence in his assessment.

“We have done quite a bit of work on ‘lessons learned’ from the situation in Iraq, different mechanisms and procedures to improve the quality of our intelligence collection and analysis and our judgments,” he said (Gary Thomas, Voice of America, Oct. 3).

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