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Statement on the New U.S. Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Program
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For Immediate Release: December 4, 2007
Press Contacts: Peter Crail, (202) 463-8270 x102 and Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): Yesterday, the U.S. Intelligence Community released an update of its National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. The report says the Intelligence Community has “high confidence” that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003” and has “moderate confidence” that this program has not been restarted. It concludes that this halt was “primarily in response to international scrutiny and pressure.” The NIE acknowledges that it is unclear whether and for how long Tehran is willing to maintain the halt of its nuclear weapons program while it weighs its options.

In other words, diplomatic pressure can work and there is time to find a lasting diplomatic solution.

But how long will this condition last and how can we persuade Iran to curtail or suspend its most sensitive nuclear activities? We may never know if leaders in Washington and other key capitals don’t find a way that tests whether a new round of direct negotiations can achieve a lasting diplomatic solution.

Since Iran’s leaders two years ago rejected a multilateral package of incentives to halt their uranium-enrichment program, the United States and Europe have adopted a strategy of targeted sanctions. But this effort has failed to slow progress on Iran’s most worrisome nuclear projects. Although Tehran may be providing enough cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation of its past nuclear activities to delay tougher UN sanctions, the Agency’s knowledge of Iran’s current nuclear activities is “diminishing.”

Rather than engage Iran in a broad-based dialogue, the Bush administration has said it will only negotiate if Iran complies with UN Security Council calls to suspend its uranium enrichment and heavy water reactor projects. The EU’s Javier Solana has continued to meet with the Iranians, but in my view is essentially repeating the demand to suspend and the earlier package of proposals advanced by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Although divided on tactics, Iran’s leaders are still pushing ahead with their uranium enrichment and heavy-water reactor projects. Last week Iran’s new lead nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told Solana that all old diplomatic offers were null and void.

U.S. and European diplomats may eventually win support from the UN Security Council for tougher sanctions, but Iran’s uranium enrichment program is moving faster than the rate at which the economic impact of sanctions may dissuade Tehran from continuing it , especially with oil prices just below $100 a barrel. One year ago, Iran had 300 gas centrifuge machines in place; today it has nearly 3,000. It is highly unlikely that a "sanctions only" strategy will persuade Iran to provide full transparency about its nuclear activities or lead it to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

President Bush said today that the new NIE findings do not suggest that the United States should change its current strategy.

Wrong. If a certain policy fails to produce favorable results, most politicians and diplomats have the good sense to make adjustments rather than advocate more of the same. Leaders in Washington, Tehran, and elsewhere must rethink their current strategy and have the courage to take the first step toward a solution.

As the United States and other key Security Council members seek to impose still tougher sanctions, they must also engage in a comprehensive, serious, a sustained direct dialogue with Iran’s leaders now, even if it fails to suspend its enrichment program. The focus should be on limiting Iran to its current uranium centrifuge capability and putting in place extensive IAEA safeguards which go beyond the Additional Protocol to detect and deter any further undeclared Iranian nuclear activities.

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