Former presidential adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argues that the much-publicized report on the Iranian nuclear weapons program issued last week by the National Intelligence Estimate has been widely misread.
And he asserts that it does not indicate that Iran has abandoned efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
The key passage in the report reads: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."
In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Kissinger states that the passage “was, in fact, qualified by a footnote whose complex phraseology obfuscated that the suspension really applied to only one aspect of the Iranian nuclear weapons program (and not even the most significant one): the construction of warheads. That qualification was not restated in the rest of the document, which continued to refer to the "halt of the weapons program" repeatedly and without qualification.
“The reality is that the concern about Iranian nuclear weapons has had three components: the production of fissile material, the development of missiles and the building of warheads.
“Heretofore, production of fissile material has been treated as by far the greatest danger, and the pace of Iranian production of fissile material has accelerated since 2006. So has the development of missiles of increasing range. What appears to have been suspended is the engineering aimed at the production of warheads.”
Kissinger notes that the report does not disclose how close to developing a warhead Iran was when it suspended its program “or how confident the intelligence community is in its ability to learn when work on warheads has resumed. On the latter point, the new estimate expresses only ‘moderate’ confidence that the suspension has not been lifted already.
“It is therefore doubtful that the evidence supports the dramatic language of the summary and, even less so, the broad conclusions drawn in much of the public commentary.”
Kissinger points out that in the fall of 2003, when according to the NIE report Iran suspended its “nuclear weapons program,” Saddam Hussein had just been overthrown, and he writes that it’s conceivable that the Iranian regime at that time decided “restraint had become imperative” and suspended its program.
But by the fall of 2005, “the American effort in Iraq showed signs of bogging down; the prospects for extending the enterprise into Iran were diminishing,” Kissinger writes.
“Iranian leaders could have felt free to return to their policy of building up a military nuclear capability…
“They might also have concluded, because the secret effort had leaked, that it would be too dangerous to undertake another covert program. Hence the emphasis on renewing the enrichment program in the guise of a civilian energy program.
“In short, if my analysis is correct, we could be witnessing not a halt of the Iranian weapons program -- as the NIE asserts -- but a subtle, ultimately more dangerous version of it that will phase in the warhead when fissile material production has matured.”
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