Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, December 4th, 2007
The latest NIE report on Iran is another significant event in the region. Some analysts describe the report as "sensational," and I agree. To underscore the importance of this development, President Bush decided to hold a press conference this morning to discuss the implications of its findings.
While the President tried to project the image that nothing has changed in his Administration’s policy towards Iran, the truth is that this report has dealt the existing policy a severe blow.
During the press conference, Bush admitted that he had learned about the NIE report a week before it became public yesterday.
The dumping of March 14th, the invitation of Syria to Annapolis and that of Iran to the G.C.C conference is a startling dynamic that is sweeping the region.
Syria stands to reap the benefits in a most spectacular fashion
Blunted by View That Work
On Atomic Weapons Ended
December 4, 2007; Page A3
WASHINGTON — A new report from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its development of atomic weapons in 2003 — a surprising finding likely to shift the debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions both at home and abroad.
The National Intelligence Estimate, demanded by Congress in 2006, could undercut calls from hawks inside the Bush administration — as well as those on the presidential campaign trail — who have urged military strikes to combat Iran's program. U.S. diplomats say it also could undermine Washington's ability to use financial sanctions to pressure Tehran into giving up its long-term pursuit of nuclear technologies, especially if it emboldens Iran's allies such as China and Russia.
At the same time, the report could pose a challenge to the Iranian regime, which has expanded its strategic influence across the Middle East partly on the back of its nuclear ambitions. Much like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Tehran has employed belligerence over the nuclear issue to bolster its regional credentials by standing up to the U.S.
The NIE, the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies, says Tehran appeared committed to developing a nuclear weapon until 2003. It froze its activities following a mixture of diplomatic pressure and the prospect of U.S. military force and financial sanctions, the report says. The report also says Tehran's decision was driven in part by the exposure in 2002 of some of its covert programs.
"International isolation and international pressure," said one senior intelligence official, "created an atmosphere that clearly led to this decision."
The official said it wasn't clear whether the 2003 invasion of Iraq or other events — including Libya's decision to end its nuclear program and the dissolution of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear-weapons network — influenced Iran's decision.
Regardless of the freeze, the NIE warns that Iran continues to enrich uranium at a rate that could allow it to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb sometime between 2010 and 2015. Iran continued through this year to install new centrifuge equipment but faced significant technical problems operating it, the report says.
Iran's decision to freeze its nuclear-weapons program took place two years before the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. While he has become the face of the country's nuclear ambitions, his ultimate influence over these matters is uncertain, since much power in Iran is held by a council of senior clerics.
The White House sought to play down the significance of the estimate, arguing that its most significant finding was that Iran continues to press ahead with its uranium-enrichment work. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters the estimate suggests President Bush "has the right strategy" in confronting Iran.
The Bush administration and its Western partners, particularly France and the United Kingdom, have been working in recent months to pass a United Nations resolution penalizing Tehran for its uranium-enrichment work. Now, a number of U.S. officials believe China and Russia, and potentially other countries, will balk at coercive actions, citing the diminished threat.
Last week, talks between Iran's senior nuclear negotiator and the European Union collapsed in acrimony, with the Iranian, Saeed Jalili, bragging about his country's recent advances.
Congress mandated the report in a defense bill last year, and intelligence officials said yesterday it was also a part of their continuing review of their information on Iran. Such a report had already been requested by Senate Democrats earlier that year, and in a May 19, 2006, letter to President Bush, Democratic senators, including Harry Reid, now Senate majority leader, and Carl M. Levin of Michigan, now Senate Armed Services chairman, said the report was needed to "avoid repeating mistakes made in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq."
U.S. intelligence officials said the report was delayed because of the need to gather additional information. This was deemed crucial, these officials said, to avoid a repeat of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which is widely seen today as having overstated Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities ahead of the U.S. invasion.
The report's findings diverge from statements made by administration officials as recently as this year, and also from the most recent NIE on Iran, issued in 2005. In February, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told Congress that "we assess that Tehran seeks to develop nuclear weapons." President Bush in October said that denying Tehran a nuclear capability was central to any international effort to avoid "World War III."
Officials at U.S. spy agencies came to believe after their 2005 report was issued that Iran had suspended its weapons program. The differences between this assessment and the administration's public comments prompted them to make the report public, officials say.
Republican and Democratic presidential front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton have cited the Iranian nuclear threat as perhaps America's No. 1 security issue. Both candidates endorsed the administration's coercive actions against Iran.
Write to Jay Solomon at email@example.com
Syria ‘path to peace in the Mid-East’
December 03, 2007
JERUSALEM: Israel should drop its preconditions and immediately resume peace talks with Syria, a confidant of Israel’s Defence Minister said yesterday.
Labor Party legislator Danny Yatom also told Israel Radio that it would be easier to reach a deal with Syria than with the Palestinians, and that progress with Syria could accelerate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“I think the time has come to renew negotiations with Syria,” he said. “After Annapolis, we need to take advantage of the new atmosphere.”
Yatom was reportedly briefed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak after the minister returned from the international Middle East conference held last week in Annapolis, Maryland. The Annapolis conference focused on the Israeli-Palestinian track but Syria also sent a representative, raising hopes it could be persuaded to break its alliance with Iran if talks with Israel were to resume. An Annapolis follow-up conference, tentatively scheduled for Moscow in the northern hemisphere spring, may address the Israeli-Syrian conflict directly.
Yatom, a former chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said the Government should drop a series of preconditions and start talks with Syria immediately. In the past, Israel has demanded the Syrian Government withdraw support for militant groups, including the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese guerilla group Hezbollah. In exchange for peace, Syria wants Israel to return all of the Golan Heights, a plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Yatom suggested negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians be conducted simultaneously, but said it would be easier to reach a deal with Damascus.
Secret ‘diplomatic’ overtures to Hamas
30/11/2007 By Anshel Pfeffer Jerusalem
A diplomatic back-channel is intensifying between Israeli and Muslim religious leaders, including figures identified with Hamas.
The aim of the talks, taking place with the full knowledge of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, is to provide a wider consensus at the grassroots for an eventual accord.
While all eyes have been on preparations for this week’s Annapolis summit, talks have continued between senior religious figures on both sides.
Israel has insisted on not talking to Hamas politically until it recognises
Israel and renounces violence, but politicians are aware of the need to engage with Hamas on some level.
There is also a need to supply some degree of support for a possible peace deal within the Palestinian public, especially among the more Islamist elements. While a dialogue between Jewish and Muslim leaders has been taking place for over a decade, a senior Israeli government source told the JC this week that "it has greatly intensified over the past six months and is of a much serious order than in the past"…..
"We all feel that in the end, the success or failure of the Annapolis summit and subsequent negotiations, is tied to the goodwill of the public on both sides."
Abbas needed to gain support also within Islamist circles, he added. "Also, for many Israelis the fact that there is no consensus within the Palestinian people causes widespread scepticism and we are trying to disprove that."
Rabbi Melchior said that one aim was for a fatwa by senior Islamic clerics to affirm the right of a Jewish state to exist in the region.
Among others, the leadership of Israel’s Islamic Movement and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are involved. Both have close political and religious ties with Hamas. As Sunnis, they also have a joint interest in minimising Iranian-Shia influence in the region.