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Former IAEA Director-General
Iran's Nuclear Program and Diplomatic Options to Contain It









9:30–11:00 A.M.


Transcript by:
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.
Edited by the Arms Control Association


DARYL KIMBALL:  All right.  Good morning, everyone.  My name is Daryl Kimball.  I’m the executive director of the Arms Control Association, and many of you here know about ACA.  But for those of you who don’t, we are a nonprofit, nonpartisan, research and public education organization, and we are dedicated to practical strategies to eliminate the chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons threat.  And we’re also pleased to publish the monthly journal, Arms Control Today, copies of which I think you have. 

I want to welcome you this morning to this briefing, which is going to focus on Iran’s nuclear program and what can be done to contain it.  We’re meeting at a very important juncture.  Just yesterday, as you all know, the U.S. intelligence community released its update of its National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. 

And as you’ve probably read by now, the report says the intelligence community has high confidence that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has moderate confidence the halt continues today.  The report concludes that this is primarily in response to international pressure, but the NIE reports acknowledges that it is unclear whether, and for how long, Tehran is willing to maintain that halt of its nuclear weapons program while it weighs its options.

In other words, there is time to find a diplomatic solution.  But for how long will this condition last, and how can we persuade Iran to curtail or suspend its most sensitive nuclear activities, enrichment activities, in particular?  We may never know.  In my view, if leaders in Tehran are going to do this, if leaders in Washington and other key capitals don’t find a way that tests whether a new round of direct negotiations can lead to a settlement that contains Iran’s sensitive activities, and reintroduces more extensive (International Atomic Energy Agency) IAEA additional protocol inspections. 

Now, as we know, for the last couple of years, rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with the UN Security Council calls to suspend its uranium enrichment and heavy-water reactor projects.  The (European Union’s) EU’s point man on this issue, Javier Solana, has met with the Iranians, but in my view, what he’s been doing is he's essentially been reiterating the demand to suspend.  And although divided on tactics, the Iranians appear to be more determined than ever to pursue their uranium enrichment program and to build their heavy-water reactor at Arak. 

Last week, Iran’s new nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told Javier Solana that all diplomatic offers were essentially null and void.

Now, U.S. and European diplomats may eventually  find a way to reach agreement at the Security Council for tougher sanctions, a third round of sanctions vis-à-vis Iran, but Iran’s nuclear program appears to be moving faster than Iran will be decisively influenced by such sanctions, especially if oil prices remain at just below $100 a barrel.

Now, I believe – and this is my view, our speakers might have other views, other perspectives – that the U.S. and other key Security Council members might go ahead and seek to impose still tougher sanctions, but they must also engage in a comprehensive, serious, and sustained direct dialogue with Iran’s leaders now, even if Iran has not yet suspended its enrichment program. 

And the focus needs to be on limiting its program to its current research level, around 3,000 centrifuges – David Albright will talk about this in a moment – and to try to make sure that the IAEA has the capability to inspect Iran’s facilities under the terms of the Additional Protocol. 

Now, this morning, our three panelists are going to explore these and other issues, and they may offer some different approaches, as I said, to what I’ve outlined.  They’re going to report on what we know about Iran’s nuclear program and discuss the diplomatic options that have been explored and might be explored in order to contain it. 

Now, first, we’re going to hear from David Albright, who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a leading independent authority on the Iranian nuclear weapons program – nuclear program and its history.  David has co-written an in-depth article that appears in the November issue of Arms Control Today that outlines the progress and the challenges facing Iran’s nuclear program.  And I think he’s also going to discuss a little bit, David, the perils of military strikes against Iran’s facilities. 

Next, we’re going to hear from Dr. Hans-Peter Hinrichsen, who is the first secretary, political affairs at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany here in Washington.  Dr. Hinrichsen has worked in the German diplomatic service for 13 years, with four years covering specifically nuclear nonproliferation issues for the Foreign Office in Berlin.  He is going to discuss Germany’s perspective on options to address Iran’s nuclear program and, in the context of Berlin’s role in consultations with the EU-3 and the Security Council, the prospects and the dynamics of the negotiations on additional sanctions. 

And then to clean up is a friend of the Arms Control Association, Joe Cirincione.  He’s a senior fellow and director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress.  He’s traveled to Iran earlier this – and earlier this year, he wrote the Center for American Progress’ report "Contain and Engage." 

Now, following each of their remarks, we’ll take your questions and answers, and because of the difficulties with the sound system here, we’ll be coming up to the microphone to answer those questions. 

So with that, David, I’ll turn over the podium to you, and be careful navigating with your paperwork. 

DAVID ALBRIGHT:  Thank you very much.  Iran continued – well, let me start with saying I’d like to summarize – four points I’ll make and then I’ll go back through those points in a somewhat circuitous route, making those points again and some others. 

Iran continues to make progress on developing a nuclear weapons capability that could produce weapons-grade uranium relatively quickly following the decision to do so.  Efforts to obtain a suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program remain valid and urgent. 

The second point I’d like to make – and Darryl touched on this – is that inspections of Iran’s nuclear program continue to weaken.  The IAEA knows less and less about what is going on inside the nuclear program in Iran.  Therefore, there is a need to convince Iran to re-implement the Additional Protocol and the additional transparency measures that have been identified by the IAEA. 

Third point, revelations in the National Intelligence Estimate about the assessed lack of covert uranium enrichment, conversion and weaponization facilities after the fall of 2003, bring the U.S. intelligence community into line with those of many others, including the IAEA, some of the European countries, and independent experts.  These groups assessed several years ago that they were unlikely to be significant covert uranium-enrichment capabilities after the fall of 2003. 

The last point, which I’ll touch upon probably less than the others, is that military options appear increasingly unnecessary and counterproductive, and I believe personally – and I guess Jackie and I state in our article – they should simply be taken off the table. 

In the last year, Iran went from operating and enriching uranium in about 300 centrifuges to 3,000.  Progress continues at the Natanz enrichment plant.  The centrifuges are operating at less than optimal, and the challenge now for Iran is to get these 3,000 centrifuges enriching uranium at a more acceptable level.  And in this article that’s available, you can – we chart out some of the progress they’ve made on producing low enriched uranium and then project some scenarios about how fast they can produce it in the future. 

But I want to make the point: it is moving forward and that in the last year, we would assess that they concentrated on getting the 3,000 centrifuges installed, which looking back a year ago, was quite a feat.  Now, they would concentrate on getting those centrifuges to work better.  And I don’t think that it’s outside – and so I guess one of the first points I want to make is that I would disagree with some of the statements in the NIE that talk about they’ll need at least six to eight years before they could produce, in essence, a significant amount of enriched uranium. 

The NIE uses the term highly enriched uranium, but if they – if Iran could produce a significant amount of low enriched uranium on a continuous basis in those 3,000 centrifuges, it can also make highly enriched uranium in a sufficient quantity for a nuclear weapon. 

So I think – just to reiterate, I think that the NIE is, in a way, on the timeline, as you can read into almost anything you want.  They’ve even introduced the possibility of 2009, but I would disagree with some of the assessments in there that say it's no sooner than 2013, perhaps later than 2015.  And I – we have to take questions on that. 

At any point – any case, whatever they have – will have a nuclear weapons capability, they will have the ability to produce weapons-grade uranium relatively quickly at that point because gas centrifuges are so flexible.  And therefore, when the NIE says that Iran could reverse course at any point, unfortunately, it can reverse course and once it’s competent in operating the gas centrifuges, move to make highly enriched uranium relatively quickly. 

And that’s one of the reasons why I continue to believe that it’s important to argue with Iran and to try to achieve a suspension and not to accept the current level of enrichment, particularly if they continue to improve the production in those centrifuges. 

And complicating the entire situation has been Iran’s refusal to continue implementing the Additional Protocol, as you're all aware.  And what that means in concrete terms is – and the IAEA has said that – is they’re no longer able to tell us whether Iran has – well, they use a term, an absence of undeclared activities.  What it means in practical terms is, Iran could be building the gas centrifuge plant in secret and they wouldn’t have much chance of detecting it. 

And unfortunately, the inspections in Iran have gone back to the level that were imposed in the 1980s on states, and in fact, are somewhat similar to those that existed in Iraq in the late 1980s, when the IAEA was unable to detect Iraq’s secret nuclear weapons program, and particularly where those kinds of activities were taking place.  And so without getting more transparency in Iran, it’s going to be very difficult to know what they’re doing. 

Another example is the IAEA no longer knows where Iran makes centrifuge components or how many it makes.  And IAEA people had said last – early this year that they – the technical people – these are people, who’d worked – in one case, worked in Iranco, people who’d been on the ground in Iran – that Iran was able to make all the centrifuge components now. 

It took them many years to master that, but that they could make the centrifuge components and they had quite a supply of parts, at least sufficient for several thousand, perhaps up to 10,000, which means that Iran is now, we know, making centrifuge components in secret, but we don’t know where and we don’t know how many.  And so you lose the ability to know is Iran building a covert plant. 

The NIE was rather weak on this point.  It’s – the language is probably – it has moderate confidence that the nuclear weapons program, which could imply covert enrichment plants, did not restart as of mid-2007.  And I would say that moderate confidence – and another part of the NIE has just interpreted it as probably, but in fact, it’s not a very sound assurance that something isn’t going on.

And in fact, it mirrors the IAEA statements that without more inspections, without the Additional Protocol, without additional measures, the IAEA simply can’t answer that question.  And Iran, in a sense, is free to decide what to do and there’s a little chance of being detected.  And there's – also Iran has exempted itself from a certain condition in the safeguards – traditional safeguards – that it doesn’t have to tell the IAEA when it starts construction. 

So in fact, if it’s building a secret centrifuge plant, it’s not violating anything until it moves to the point of putting enriched – or nuclear material, and then it has to tell the IAEA about the plant six months before it does that.  But it could have a completely functioning centrifuge plant prior to doing that. 

And so again, I want to add this point, just to stress that there is an urgency to this problem.  It’s not – the NIE is not saying that everything is okay, and I would add that in the international negotiations and some of the current discussions, the Additional Protocol was not getting the attention it needs. 

The last thing I’d like to mention is step back to the fall of 2003, this magic date that’s in the NIE.  And just to remind you what happened then, the main event was three foreign ministers from Europe went to Tehran and were successful in getting an agreement with Rohani, the head of the National Security Council, who, even during the meeting, was talking directly to the supreme leader by telephone.  And so it was a very dramatic change in what had been going on, which was Iran was hiding its nuclear program – because again, all its enrichment program was undeclared prior to 2003.  Then, when it declared it, it hid parts of it.  It took steps to deceive the inspectors.  And the inspectors were able to penetrate that deception and expose this program—and in essence, drive the Iran atomic energy organization out of the game. 

And it was at that point that Rohani stepped in and make a deal with these EU ministers to suspend enrichment and to agree to the Protocol.  He also had organized a person to set up a committee, to go out and say, “What the hell is going on in this nuclear program?”  And so he took responsibility to come up with a new declaration that would be complete.  And so when the EU ministers left that meeting, they felt that they were no – there weren’t going to be significant covert enrichment or uranium-conversion facilities in Iran from that date on. 

Now, of course, there were concerns that there may be cheating and that not everything had been declared.  There were some – Rohani’s people missed the P2 program, which some argue maybe he deliberately tried to hide it.  There was a strenuous effort by the IAEA to find – try to find an undeclared pilot conversion facility because Iran had gone from lab scale on making UF6 to a production scale.  And so there must have been a pilot.  But after many months, they were satisfied that, yes, indeed, the Iranian declaration was true. 

And so I add this just to say that yesterday’s announcement, while it may be perceived as big news in Washington, is actually not such big news if you’ve been following this issue.  And the EU ministers wouldn’t have moved forward with their deal in 2003, unless they had some assurance – in a sense, their guess – that Iran was going to come clean and not have significant gas-centrifuge efforts or conversion efforts. 

On weaponization, it’s much harder for them to focus on this, but there was at least the belief that the program had slowed down on weaponization, if not stopped.  And so I think again, what you had yesterday is United States, in a sense, recalibrating itself.  Maybe it needed a two by four in terms of information to change its mind, but it came to a point that many had come to much earlier, and that – and now I hope, with this recalibration, that there’ll be a recalibration in the diplomacy. 

Certainly, I would hope there’s a recalibration to drop this – always this implied discussion that we’re going to whack you, Iran, that it’s not helpful.  I’d watched it play out in Iran for years.  It incites the right wing, makes diplomacy much harder to get in Iran. 

The other thing is – and Darryl mentioned this – is I hope that it leads to more creative diplomacy, that maybe it’s time to drop the precondition on negotiations and move into negotiation, while the goal remains suspension.  I think I would have a hard time living with Iran having a nuclear weapons capability, given the nature of the regime, given the nature of the region, where it can quickly take its low enriched uranium that’s been produced for civil purposes, and within a matter of months, perhaps in a covert facility that has not operated until that decision is made – so it’s legal – then within a few months or a year produce enough material for a bomb, and then go forward with a nuclear arsenal. 

So thank you. 

KIMBALL:  Thank you very much, David.  Hans-Peter Hinrichsen?  Thank you.    

HANS-PETER HINRICHSEN:  Thanks very much for inviting me.  The first point – I have to make a point which is obvious that I’m speaking on a personal basis.  The development of yesterday is quite new and even if the German government is working quickly, it’s not as quickly that I would have clear-cut instructions what to tell you today.  So what I’m going to tell you is my personal assessment of the situation in which we are – and please don’t attribute that to the German government or report that as being an official German government point of view. 

Of course, we have taken notice of the report yesterday and we think it contains important findings which require further analysis, and we will certainly talk to our American colleagues on that.  There have been some press reports about phone calls between Minister Steinmeier and Minister Rice.  Minister Steinmeier is quoted in the press to have said that this shows that the double-track approach, followed by the E3+3, has been the right approach. 

But at the same time, I want to make an important point, which was made by David already to some extent.  We think that the findings of the report do not seem to remove the suspicion that Iran could use its enrichment program to pursue the nuclear weapons option.  So there are still reason for concern, as my previous speaker has noted.  And confidence is still not there that Iran might not use a breakout option to create nuclear weapons, lest we see a continued urgency to build confidence on the basis of a complete physical transparency and plausibility regarding the Iranian nuclear activities, which especially concerns enrichment. 

Those are demands which have been on the table by the IAEA and by the United Nations Security Council, and obviously, Iran has not been prepared to comply with these so far.  But we think that methods and goals, as pursued by the United Nations Security Council and the international community, remain valid, the double-track approach, using incentives, as well as measures like sanctions to increase pressure on Iran.  It therefore remains important to continue with efforts to seek a third Security Council resolution and to proceed with our discussions about possible EU measures in order to support the United Nations process. 

We have hoped to achieve a third Security Council resolution soon, if possible this month.  In this process, Germany attaches great importance to the unity of the international community, and we think this is especially important because of two reasons.  One reason is the political message we send to Iran, that of unity of the world community that is against Iran creating this nuclear weapons option without restoring confidence in its nuclear program.  The alternative that Iran faces is getting either isolation, or to comply with their obligations under the Security Council resolutions.  We think that this political message has been very important on the Iranian side to influence Iranian decision makers so far. 

And secondly, economically, sanctions would be much more effective if they are taken on global scale.  I will come back to that in a moment. 

At the same time, and this was stressed before here, we will stay in contact with Iran and pursue diplomatic talks.  According to the report, the National Intelligence Estimate, diplomacy has worked and there is still time to let diplomacy work. 

As I mentioned, the EU will deal with this as well, and decisions in the EU need to be taken in the light of the progress of the United Nations process.  What we want to avoid is to have negative influences on the United Nations Security Council process by European measures and to have a detrimental effect on the international consensus on Iran.  So we will have to carefully examine what the EU will do and when it will do it. 

Now, coming to Germany, Germany has implemented the United Nations and the EU sanctions comprehensively and quickly.  The federal government has already, and has done so for quite a while, advised German industry on the risks inherent in business in Iran.  And the German economy has already significantly reacted to the political situation.  Just to give you some figures, exports from Germany to Iran have gone down in 2006 by 7 percent and in 2007, up to today, by 16 percent. 

German banks have reduced their activities concerning Iran significantly, which had a tangible effect on the Iranian side.  And if I talk about activities of German banks, I’m not only talking about activities of banks in Germany or in other financial marketplace, but also in Dubai.  We don’t have any subsidiaries from other places doing business with Iran. 

In 2006, new German export credit insurances have gone down by 33 percent compared to the previous year, 2005.  And we assume that in 2007, the number will go down by 40 percent. 

Our impression is that diplomatic pressure and sanctions are effective.  We see in the report that Iran is estimated to have halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of diplomatic activities.  We are convinced that the international pressure built up so far has moved Iran to address the questions raised by the IAEA, the process that we see between the IAEA and Iran. 

The economic problems that Iran faces have been deepened by the discussions and proceedings concerning Iran’s nuclear program.  There is now general restraint concerning investment in Iran.  It’s difficult for Iran to get credits on the international market.  And trade with Iran has become much more difficult, as international banks have reduced their business with Iran. 

One result we see from that that there are already cleavages within the Iranian elite and the Iranian political stratum.  The second result you see, and from that you can deduce that the sanctions had effect, Iranian countermeasures to that.  What we are seeing is that the Iranian economy has reoriented itself towards Asia and Russia away from Europe.  And Iran has switched its foreign trade from currencies – dollar, of course, and mostly going away from euro to other currencies. 

We all know, however, what Darryl has mentioned already, that the high oil prices help Iran to ease all these problems I just quoted, but we think the clear message to Iran has to be that the international community is united concerning Iran’s nuclear program. 

To sum up, we think that the findings of the report have not removed the suspicion that Iran could use its enrichment program to pursue a nuclear weapons option.  Thus, we see a continued urgent necessity on the Iranian side to build confidence in its nuclear – the peaceful nature of its nuclear program by complete physical transparency and plausibility, and methods and goals as pursued by the United Nations Security Council and the international community remain valid, the double-track approach, using incentives, as well as measures like sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran.  Thank you. 

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE:  Thank you very much.  Darryl has told me I had the rest of the hour for my remarks.  (Laughter.)  It’s a pleasure to lay these out for you.  Let me try to summarize the remarks.  I just have to say a few words about the NIE.  I’ve been reading National Intelligence Estimates for about 25 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this, so many – may concur with this. 

This is a remarkable document, both in its candor, its willingness to explicitly point out that the previous estimate was wrong, 180 degrees wrong, and two, to start laying out policy prescriptions of what a successful policy might be in this area.  An NIE has rarely, if ever, go into this kind of territory, and I think this indicates something more than just an intelligence estimate.  This is a clear sign of the struggle within the Bush administration, within the executive branch, over proliferation policy, over the strategic direction for the United States.

And in some senses, the NIE is the final nail in the coffin of the Bush doctrine.  In a very real sense, this doctrine is dead.  We are here at the wake of this Bush doctrine.  It is gone.  It breathes no more.  We are putting the sheet over its head.  It has gone to the great beyond.  (Laughter.) 

There may be a few at The Weekly Standard or at the Office of the Vice President who still cling to the illusion that military force can solve the proliferation problem, or that the goal of U.S. policy should be to overthrow those regimes we disagree with, but this policy has proved to be a complete disaster, a complete disaster. 

The NIE now comes around, as David has said, to the views that many experts have held, that I have held for at least a couple of years.  How do you look at the Iranian program?  In my view, the evidence, although circumstantial, is largely compelling that Iran did engage in weapons-related activity in the past.  It started the program during the Iraq-Iran war.  They were not interested in nuclear energy.  However, the evidence is also compelling that they no longer conduct significant weapons-related activity.  The NIE says it ended in 2003.  I would say it ended by 2003.  And in fact, Iran shifted to another model, a much more difficult strategy to prevent, which you might think of as the Japan model; that is, they are trying to legally and openly acquire all the capabilities that would allow them to build nuclear weapons sometime in the future, should they decide to do so. 

The Bush doctrine, the administration policy, had been based on the premise that there was a large covert nuclear weapons program and that exposure of that program would then build support and justify strong economic and diplomatic measures that could crush the regime, or military action that could literally destroy the regime.  It’s that policy that is now gone. 

There’s very little prospect in the remaining months of this administration that there could support for military action against Iran.  You already see first, the military commanders resisting this exclusively in public statements countering this view, and now you have the intelligence agencies speaking out on this. 

Well, what can replace it?  If the Bush doctrine is dead, if regime change is not an option, if military strikes – and I agree with David – are not an option for Iran, what can replace it?  I start from the premise that we do not know for certain what Iran’s intentions are.  Is there still interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, or are they willing to end or defer the program for a different strategic relationship with the West? 

Our policy has to test the latter while minimizing the chances of the former.  We call this policy contain and engage.  We wrote about it over – we released this report in February of this year.  It is even more valid today in light of the findings of the NIE, which closely tracks our logic, our reasoning in this report.

I think the U.S. policy has to have three goals at this point, and it has to be to contain the program, prevent the Iranian enrichment program from going to industrial-scale production.  Two, verify all Iran’s nuclear activities.  Three, change the strategic dynamic. 

Let me explain what I mean.  By containing the program, I mean we have to maintain, and if possible, increase the pressures on Iran to come to some compromise on the program.  I believe it’s still possible to get another sanctions resolution through the United Nations.  The talks that the United States officials have had with China and Russia in recent weeks seem to hold some promise.  I don’t believe the NIE kills these efforts. 

I disagree with some of the analysts.  I think there still might be a chance of getting that, but only if the U.S. shows a willingness to put in place the missing link in the strategy, and that is engagement.  I do not believe our allies will agree to increase sanctions if that’s the whole policy, if you’re still clinging to the belief that somehow these sanctions are going to force a collapse or coerced compliance. 

So there has to a willingness by the United States to engage with Iran.  We engaged with Libya with great success.  We engaged with North Korea with substantial success.  It is time to engage with Iran.  This might not be possible at the Secretary of State level, but it is certainly possible at the level of, say, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations or the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad or Nicholas Burns, who has been conducting the U.S. version of diplomacy with Iran, which is trying to line up U.S. pressure on Iran.  We’re talking about diplomacy that now engages with Iran.  That’s the missing link.

I would like to see the goal of this.  I believe it’s got to be more realistic, although I continue to desire full suspension of the Iranian enrichment program, I don’t think we’re going to get that.  I think it’s impossible for any Iranian diplomat, any Iranian official, right now to agree to that suspension.  So the U.S. should engage Iran.  While we should seek that goal, it should no longer be a precondition to negotiations with Iran.  The U.S. is the only nation that holds this. 

You can still support the IAEA Board of Governors’ report, you can still support the UN sanctions, the Security Council resolutions without – but engage with Iran.  It isn’t necessary that they suspend before we actually start talking to them.  I believe our goal should be to keep – to try to arrange a temporary measure where Iran could operate a small number of centrifuges while the talks gone on. While the goal of suspension is still sought, we should be focusing mainly on limiting the number and capability of the existing centrifuges.

The second part of it is verify.  Any kind of agreement with Iran, temporary or permanent, must increase the inspection authority of the international inspectors.  In shorthand, this is Additional Protocol-plus.  Iran has to again implement the procedures of the Additional Protocol to their safeguards agreement, allow inspectors to go to every facility in Iran, allow greater access.  And I would add, under these extraordinary circumstances, we require additional forms of verification.  We could have, for example, have international officials participating in the centrifuge operations that are continuing.  There has to be additional disclosures of Iran’s past activities.  No agreement can be sustained unless we get these kinds of verification procedures. 

But here’s the third and most important part: we must change the dynamic with Iran.  This is never going to be settled on just the level of a nuclear agreement.  It’s never going to be settled on a sanctions resolution, or an export control regime, or threats of force.  You’ve got to change the relationship with Iran.  The point of the negotiations on this nuclear issue is to buy time, is to bring about an opening within which you can change the relationship of Iran to the U.S. and to its neighbors in the region, and develop regional diplomacy that can start as the NIE says, satisfying Iran’s security and prestige concerns in the region, bring them into the Iraq stabilization process; bring them into the Middle East peace process.  Then I believe you might be able to get the – you might be able to see some changes in the regime that could allow the Iranian people to do what they, and only they, can do: change that regime once and for all.  I’ll close with that.  Thank you.

KIMBALL:  Thanks very much, Joe.  Thanks to all of you for your very nimble presentations the day after this National Intelligence Estimate came out.  We now can take your questions.  You’ll have to bear with us because these are the only mikes that are working right now, so we’ll have to bring the speaker up to the podium.  So what I’d like to do is ask reporters, journalists here, if they have questions, let us know who you are, who you’d like to direct your question to and we’ll start.  Anyone?  Yes, sir,
QUESTION:  This is really to anyone on the panel.  If you could talk about the timing of the release of the NIE.  I know it’s been in the press that this has been – it’s been outstanding since January and if you could just speak to that.

KIMBALL:  The question is about the timing.  This NIE has been delayed for some time.  Anyone here?  One thing that I think is relevant is there was some good reporting in the Washington Post this morning, which corresponds with what rumors I’ve been hearing about the reworking of this NIE.  There was a statement from Mr. Kerr from the National Intelligence Council yesterday that explained that because – I don’t have that in front of me – that because of the shift in the assessments from the previous NIE in 2005, that is, that the nuclear weapons program has been assessed to have ended, they felt it important for the unclassified version to be released, whether that had to do with the timing, this Monday or not.  I’ll also say that we didn’t have anything to do with the timing of this.  We had this press conference scheduled today – (laughter) – and we’re very glad that the NIE came out yesterday.  Joe?

CIRINCIONE:  Just to say it’s important to keep this in perspective because I think in some ways this NIE goes – it has importance beyond the actual issue it addresses.  So the narrow issue is what was the delay?  I’m hearing the same things you might be hearing that the intelligence agencies picked up some pretty compelling evidence, either from human intelligence, that is an Iranian official who provided this information directly to the agencies, or surveillance that resulted in overheard conversations that convinced them that the program had been ended. 

They presented that intelligence to the White House, the White House was incredulous about this and there was a struggle over this particular bit of intelligence, while the agency struggled to verify it, and just in recent months, they were able to do and they released it.  But that’s just the narrow part of it. 

The bigger part is that this is a continuing struggle between – I don’t know what else to call them – the ideologues in the White House and the intelligence agencies over intelligence.  And what has changed between now and 2005?  Yes, there’s new intelligence, but we’ve had new intelligence before and it hasn’t changed our assessments.  We had new intelligence on Iraq in the winter of 2002 and 2003 that showed that there wasn’t a nuclear program in Iraq.  It did not change our policy. 

What’s different now from 2005 is the people, the hardliners in the Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Steve Cambone have been banished.  Their operation that provided alternative, and as it turns out, false intelligence to the White House to justify their policies is gone.  You have professionals back in charge of the intelligence operation, and I believe this NIE is a very hopeful sign that professionalism and integrity have been returned to the intelligence agencies, and you have senior officials protecting the analysts, allowing them to say what they believe and not bending to the political pressures they’ve been subjected to.

KIMBALL:  All right.  Yes, sir?

QUESTION:  If the Iranians stopped their program in 2003 to pursue this acquisition of technology legitimately, why didn’t they continue to permit the Protocol to be enforced and actually pursue that and get over all of these sanctions?

KIMBALL:  So the question is essentially if they stopped their nuclear weapons program, why didn’t they allow the Additional Protocol inspections to continue and to achieve a clean bill of health?  One part of the answer is very clear, which is that the Iranians said, from quite early on, that they wanted this issue to addressed and settled in the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Board of Governors.  And they warned repeatedly that if their file, so to speak, was referred to the UN Security Council, that they would reduce the amount of cooperation they would provide to the IAEA. 

Now, I don’t agree with that at all.  I think that’s counterproductive for the Iranians, but that is what they warned because this is one point of leverage apparently they had in order to try to avoid this from being sent to the Security Council for its action. 

I think, as we’ve all said, it is vital right now for Iran to provide information that we’ve been waiting on for some time.  As everyone knows, the IAEA recently worked out a work plan with Iran to settle the past and the current issues that are still surrounding its nuclear activities. 

Some of these were addressed in the report that was just released by the IAEA in mid-November, but there are other issues and of course, we do need to have, as Joe said, as David said, and I think as Hans-Peter was strongly implying, we do need to have the Additional Protocol enforced in Iran, so that we don’t have to rely on trusting the Iranians, what they say, but that we have the inspectors on the ground. 

And I think we have to remember one of the points that Joe did make about the NIE is that the U.S. intelligence agencies are, I think, they may not admit it, but they are depending on information that is being obtained by the IAEA.  So this is important for everyone and this is a strategic objective that I think has been lost in the mix over the last couple of years, that is, getting the Additional Protocol working in Iran once again.

QUESTION:  Why are – (inaudible) – Iran simply permit it if, in fact, they had stopped their program?

KIMBALL:  All right.  David?  I’m not ducking it.  I’m not the Iranians.  (Laughter.) 

ALBRIGHT:  For one, Jim, you know that Iran refused to stop enrichment and that was after a certain point, and I think the Additional Protocol gets caught up in that, but one of the problems – in fact, one of the damages that the U.S. policy did, particularly in ’04, was that it kept – it put pressure on the EU not to give rewards to the Iranians.  So after about nine months after this, Rohani reported that he had gained nothing from this agreement, and I think the United States has to take some of the responsibility for that because there was pressure brought to bear to keep rewards from going out, whatever those rewards would be.  There could have been several from the Europeans to the Iranians. 

There were deliberate leaks of information.  If you remember the Lavizan case, when we learned about it and Jackie was working at ABC, we were in collaboration with her and ABC.  The leak was U.S. government has evidence that Iran has nuclear weapons equipment at a secret site in Iran that’s being leveled to the ground.  The secret nuclear weapons equipment was radiation-monitoring-detection equipment, full-body counters.  Now, it turned out that that site was being leveled to the ground. 

It was very important for the inspectors to go there and track back what happened there, but it was spun by the U.S. – and I believe in a deliberate attempt to sabotage progress on the EU-3 Iran agreement, particularly – the EU giving rewards.  And so I think what you ended up with, after a couple of years of suspension, was the Iranians realized the EU is serious.  You have to suspend enrichment and continue that, but the rewards were very tenuous.  And the U.S. was throwing stones at this process through much of it and then moving towards sanctions, even when it joined in the effort finally. 

And so I don’t think the Additional Protocol inside Iran is seen as fine.  The Iranians are very tough on this, they’re very clear.  The whole background of the IAEA is they're a bunch of spies.  There’s military options that are being discussed.  Why should we reveal the target list by these additional inspections?  And that’s really what they’d reveal.  If you know where they’re making the centrifuges, I’m sure if you’re into military options, that’s a good one.  And in fact, the best time to attack Iran was right at the end of the suspension, when the maximum amount of knowledge was known about the program and you could have done the most damage.  And the Iranians were well aware of that, and so I think backing off the Additional Protocol had to do with the lack of rewards, the sanctions and the perception of a military strike.  And – so anyway, others may want to add to that.

KIMBALL:  Other questions. Yes, sir, in the middle.

QUESTION:   I’d like a few questions if I may, one concerning the NIE and what we know about how far – because I don’t think it was about how far Iran actually progressed – (inaudible) – policy.  Is there anything that you can say about how far Iran actually progressed on its secret weapons program and by that time of course, the whole process of moving some – (audio break) – if it was something that really seem to suggest the Iran-Iraq war.

And if I could, I’d like to ask Mr. Hinrichsen whether the estimate within some sense demonstrated the importance of diplomacy, but by the same time making it impossible for the U.S. to stand up and take Iran back to the nuclear weapons, which actually undermined – (audio break) – today, the prospects of Russia and China – (audio break) – Russia and China, that the sanctions resolution as they appeared to – (audio break) – the Russians seem very receptive, and then on Monday, two days later, the U.S. comes up with this bombshell, something that perhaps is damaging to the sanctions process.

KIMBALL:  All right.  Thanks. Joe, do you want to take the first question, please?

CIRINCIONE:  Sure.  I think in the short run, the NIE does undermine the ability to increase pressure on Iran.  In the short run, it does undermine the U.S. ability to garner international support for another UN sanctions resolution.  But I believe this bombshell could have a midterm and long-term benefit.  This might be exactly the nuclear shock therapy that U.S. policy needs to reset and restart our policy if it leads – if it now permits the pragmatists in the administration who want to engage Iran to do so, it could increase the chances of getting that sanctions resolution and present a much more united front. 

Maybe our German colleague wants to count on this.  So I wouldn’t see it frozen in time.  What’s the effect today?  You’re right.  The effect today is everybody freezes, stop, wait.  Let’s recalibrate and a lot depends on what the administration does from this point forward on this, how it reacts to this.

HINRICHSEN:  Well, if I understand the question correctly, it doesn’t undermine the approach that we have so far.  I don’t think so.  I agree with Joe.  What you see now is that what we achieved is a greater amount of unity where the threat really lies, so that you have a greater consensus, and that I would include Russia clearly into that.  So if we are clear on what we are facing, I believe we are clear in what we can do about that.  We don’t have these quarrels among the three-plus-three, what we are really trying to achieve and manage is and different perceptions, what –

CIRINCIONE:  Suspicions.

HINRICHSEN:  – and so on, but I think this offers an opportunity to get much more united on what we want to achieve and how we can achieve that, so I agree with you completely. 

KIMBALL: David, on the technical point?

ALBRIGHT:  At ISIS, we don’t know.  We assume that they did some work on their own; they had many years to do it.  They may have gotten some significant help from the A.Q. Kahn network, which we're still researching, and Iran, of course, denies doing any of these things, which further complicates the issue.  But I would say that the long pole of the tent is fissile material production.  And so – and building a nuclear weapon, even to have it fit on a missile, I don’t think will be the thing that’s going to delay an Iranian program.  And it’s really how quickly do they want to develop a capability to make highly enriched uranium, that’s the main factor. 

And then the nightmare – let me just add this – is what if A.Q. Khan gave Iran a complete nuclear weapons design and Iran bought it and then satisfied itself that it knows how to do it.  I don’t have any evidence of that per se, but I think it's – in our analysis, it’s certainly one of the possibilities.  If they only went their own route and did it, they may run into problems on the miniaturization to get it onto their missiles.

KIMBALL:  All right.  Yes, sir, in the back.

QUESTION:  I’m surprised that no one has really talked about the relationship between the timing of the program and internal Iranian politics. Especially with the election of Ahmadinejad and some of the changes in Iranian policy—and this was in the summer of 2005, if I remember, and that was when they began to pull back from assisting the IAEA and refused to implement the Additional Protocol and take away some of these other elements.  I think you know that we've – (audio break) – there’s still a power struggle going on that’s – (audio break) – or more moderate camp sort of pulled sway in Tehran. 

The one thing that surprised me about the NIE is that even though we saw the change of administration there, and it was a very significant change of policy, apparently, Ahmadinejad didn’t have the authority to take it to the next step and crank up the nuclear weapons part again.  So I wonder if any of you could comment on the change in leadership and how it maybe affected the situation.  So that might be perhaps more important than the lack of – (audio break) – the Iranian pull back.  I thought it was maybe a shift in the personnel.

CIRINCIONE:  Yes, it's a very interesting point, excellent point.  The NIE doesn’t address this explicitly, but it’s clear that some of the harder line policies of the Iranian regime came in with Ahmadinejad’s ascendance to the presidency.  The purges that followed, he’s placed his people in many of the key positions, now replacing Ali Larijani, who we used to think of as a hardliner, but became a moderate in the Ahmadinejad presidency, with Mr. Saeed Jalili, who’s an Iranian Neanderthal by everything we can see.  So this does have an effect. 

I think that one of the great contributions of this NIE is its description of the regime itself, not the weapons capability or the weapons program, but what – that this regime is susceptible and is influenced by the same kind of pressures that issue all other – that influence all other states, concerns about security, prestige, carrots, sticks, all that works.  In other words, it sort of punctures the myth that Iran is the new Nazi Germany, Ahmadinejad is the new Adolph Hitler and this is a regime bent on bringing about the next Armageddon, and it helps us see Iran in context. 

This is basically an isolated, small country, whose three major exports, after oil, are carpets, dates and pistachios, that as a regime – that Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful man in Iran, that there is a fierce debate going on in Iran on what the policy should be.  We have major figures like the mayor of Teheran, like Mr. Rohani, publicly criticizing Ahmadinejad, arguing that his policies have isolated Iran. 

In other words, we have a dynamic that we could be exploiting, but we’re not.  We have a dynamic inside Iran where there are allies that we could be reaching out to, who for their own interests, might be willing to make a deal with the United States.  And one of the goals of U.S. policy has to be to isolate Ahmadinejad, reach out to those pragmatists and see if we can make a tactical alliance that could contain and ultimately reverse this program.

HINRICHSEN:  I only want to add this on the lines what’s in the report, what we have always assumed that Ahmadinejad is not the one to take the final decisions.  There are others above him.  What you see that the change of personnel certainly hasn’t – (inaudible) – the style and results of the diplomatic process, but it hasn’t led to a decision to, let’s say, revitalize the weapons program.  So actually, he is not the one in charge.  He’s selling things and he’s handling things, but he’s not taking the big decisions and this is what we have assumed so far.

ALBRIGHT:  Sandy, when Ahmadinejad came into power, there wasn’t – the forces behind Rohani didn’t have a lot to show.  It was clear the EU had demonstrated its resolve.  They want a suspension, they want the Additional Protocol ratified.  And so there wasn’t anything on the side of the Iranians to say, well, here’s the big benefits we’ve got, other than capitulations, that the Iranians wanted something less than a full suspension, and they wanted some clear benefits, one of which would have been, I believe, U.S. engagement and at least U.S. security assurances that they weren’t going to get attacked if they made a deal.  And I don’t think that’s – even now, that’s not completely clear, that if there is a deal with the USA, we will not attack you or try to overthrow your regime.

QUESTION:   I agree with Joe that the NIE is clearly unprecedented and quite remarkable in getting 16 agencies all in on the line in agreement on such a document.  I wonder whether the group would comment on the following.  At one extreme, you can look on this as being orchestrated by the government and authorized by the government, in which case one could argue that they want a basis to get off the posture they were in, threatening military action, when they saw this domestically and internationally counterproductive, and whether, at the other extreme, this represents really the collapse of the government in which you can get an intelligence, or a unified posture of the intelligence community, contrary to the wishes of the White House.  The White House can always delay or prevent something be published and I wonder if there could be a little more speculation in which to – how fundamental this is and really the administration policy on this issue because this now gives the administration a rationale for taking the military threat off the table.

KIMBALL:  You want to take a shot, Joe?

CIRINCIONE:  I don’t believe there’s any evidence that indicates that the current administration is competent enough to orchestrate – (laughter) – a procedure such as you suggest, and I say that in all seriousness.  (Laughter.)  This is not just a lame-duck administration.  This is a dying administration.  Their people are leaving, their leadership in Congress are fleeing, the basic precepts that have guided them for the last seven years are collapsing.  They’re down to their last redoubts and basically, in the Office of the Vice President and few in the National Security Council staff. 

I think we’ve seen over the last year a reassertion of the institutions over the White House policy, first from the military, from the kinds of statements and postures that Admiral Fallon has taken in Central Command and now, Admiral Mullen, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in some sense, there’s General Petraeus, himself in Iraq.  

I think we’re now seeing the intelligence agencies reassert their institutional prerogatives.  They understand that this administration is leaving, that this group is leaving power and it’s not – whoever replaces President Bush in a year, it’s not going be – it’s going to be a very different set of policies, so the institutions are, in a very real sense, reasserting themselves. 

I don’t think you would have gotten this NIE in 2005.  We didn’t.  We got a very different NIE and it was because of the personnel, it was because of the balance of power, so this NIE is a reflection of the political struggles in the administration, the shifting balance of power, and I think it’s all to the good.  It’s a restoration of some rationality, some integrity, to the intelligence-assessment process. 

QUESTION:  But do you feel that – (audio break) – intelligence community are trying to reestablish their credibility –

CIRINCIONE:  Yes, yes.

QUESTION:  – and not a organized, coordinated effort on the part of the administration that might have a basis to moderate their policy?

CIRINCIONE:  I do not believe the administration orchestrated this to prepare an exit plan.  There was no indication whatsoever that they have an exit plan for anything.  (Laughter.)  And so I do believe that the much more we may know – the much more, I guess, simple, but more compelling rationale, is that this is a struggle.  It’s a political struggle, it’s an institutional struggle and the NIE is one manifestation of it.

KIMBALL:  Just very quickly.  I’m not sure if this intelligence – if we can consider this intelligence estimate was an attempt by the intelligence community to change policy.  I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, but I just want to be clear.  I think they went back, they said they needed to scrub the previous information they had.  I think if they have learned a lesson, what they learned is that they have to write an estimate in a way that cannot be so easily cherry-picked as the Iraq NIE was. 

This is written in a rather clear and very explicit way.  There are some differences, I think, from the way it was done before with Iraq.  And I think one of the things it may show, if we may try to impute any motives or thoughts to the broad intelligence community, is that they understand that what they say makes a difference and that they have to be very careful in their judgments about what is being said, and they have to be careful the policy makers don’t misconstrue or mishandle the judgments that they make.

And so I think this is refreshing in that sense, in that they have gone back, they reviewed the information they had.  They probably got some more new information and the assessment is fundamentally different on one of the key findings, which is whether or not Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons activities and clearly, is continuing uranium-enrichment efforts, which can be used for nuclear weapons in the future.  We may have another couple of questions and we’ll try to get to all of you.  Let me go to you here and then we’ll go here. 

QUESTION:  (Audio break.)  And my question was about Iran – (audio break) – uranium enrichment and why – can any of you address why Iran continues to reject the – demands for suspension?

CIRINCIONE:  First, you have to realize Iran is in a bit of a bind, because if my thesis is correct, and I think most of us probably here agree, Iran did have covert nuclear weapons program activity in the past.  And what the IAEA work plan basically calls for is for them to admit this.  Well, they can’t admit this.  This blows their whole story line and it might give the U.S. grounds for increased sanctions or maybe military activity that has previously, up until this point – and I would argue still. 

So in some ways we’ve got to create a process that makes it safe for Iran to admit these past activities the way – when we caught South Korea engaged in illegal enrichment activities in 2000, it was safe for South Korea to admit, oh, yes, those unauthorized scientists did this. But with these activities that South Korea did and the South Korean government explained it, and there was not penalty, no harm, no foul, done.  So we have to create an arrangement where Iran feels that it can safely admit these past activities, knowing that it’s part of a larger deal where it’s all going to be worked out. 

They cannot simply accept the P-5+1 until they know there’s a larger deal, what David had said.  Is the U.S. going to give up the option of regime change?  Is the U.S. saying they’re willing to normalize relationship with Iran?  In other words, is the U.S. willing to offer Iran what we offered Libya and North Korea?  That’s the deal they’re waiting for.  That’s point number one. 

Point number two, Iran doesn’t feel that it has to make a deal at this point.  There’re divisions within the regime about this, but some in their regime think that they’re getting stronger and the U.S. is getting weaker, and all they have to do is wait us out.  A year or two might seem like a long time to us, but if you’ve been occupying that land for 5,000 years, it doesn’t seem so long.  And they think they can wait us out and there’s a division within the regime and you see it. 

All you have to do is read the comments that are coming out from the Iranian Parliament, the mayor of Tehran or Mr. Rohani, who talk the deteriorating economic conditions, the rising unemployment, the rising inflation.  They need a new relationship with the West, they have to change their policy, they’re willing to trade Iranian policy for this new relationship, others in the regime or not.  That struggle is still playing out and it’s unresolved.  Our policy has to help them resolve their policy struggle. 


(End available audio.)