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How Far Along Is Iran on the Bomb?

A few weeks after a German intelligence report indicated that Iran never stopped its clandestine nuclear-weapons program, a new article suggests that Iran did in fact stop in 2003, echoing the infamous December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate’s findings.

Clearly, we are not in a position to determine which is correct — Iran either did or didn’t stop in 2003.

What is clear though is that the NIE was wrong, at least if one believes these leaked reports. According to the Times of London’s latest revelation, Iran stopped its weaponization program in 2003 “because its strides had far outpaced the enrichment program.” In other words, the decision to suspend the program had nothing to do with pressure from America’s invasion of Iraq. It also had nothing to do with the much fabled secret negotiations between the U.S. and Iran that were ongoing in Paris at the time. Rather, it had to do with the simple fact that Iran had finished the weaponization part of the program before it had completed the other two elements — perfecting the delivery systems and mastering the enrichment process.

If the German report is correct, Iran never stopped. And if the Times is correct — Iran never stopped.

Others, I am sure, will comment on this aspect, but one issue should be raised for the scrutiny of those who put either too much or too little reliance on the intelligence community. The NIE crucially failed to answer a simple question about Iran’s nuclear program, one that was factual, not political: it never revealed what it believed was the cause of the suspension. By omitting a crucial piece of information, the NIE left policymakers and opinion leaders guessing — and we know the result.

This string of reports should also have implications for the Obama administration. If all that is missing for Iran to acquire the bomb is an order from the Supreme Leader, as the Times report suggests, then it is time to reaffirm a commitment to prevention at all costs — and to recognize that there is no time left for engagement.



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