2007 December 03 Monday
US Government: Iran Stopped Nuclear Weapons Program

16 U.S. intelligence agencies can't be wrong. Cancel (or at least delay for several years) the US military's urban renewal program for Natanz Iran.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies released Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting a judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely to keep its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is intended for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that the enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

Life is just chock full of surprises. If the 2007 NIE is right then the 2005 NIE is wrong. This is a shocker.

Recall the long range bombers and detonate those missiles headed for Iran.

There are still hawks in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney chief among them, who view Iran with deep suspicion. But for now at least, the main argument for a military conflict with Iran — widely rumored and feared, judging by antiwar protesters that often greet Mr. Bush during his travels — is off the table for the foreseeable future.

As Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, put it, the intelligence finding removes, “if nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities.” He added: “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.”

The White House struggled to portray the estimate as a validation of Mr. Bush’s strategy, a contention that required swimming against the tide of Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s occasionally apocalyptic language.

Well, maybe the US invasion of Iraq helped persuade the Iranians to back off of nuclear weapons development. Hard to tell.

Here is the full 2007 National Intelligence Estimate "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" (PDF format):

  • We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
  • We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
  • We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
  • We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.
  • Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously

Regards intentions: Iran's top leaders probably want nukes. But under what conditions would they make the push to build some?

Iran might not be able to afford a serious nuclear weapons program several years from now because Iran's financial situation is going to decay considerably in coming years. Economic geographer Roger Stern at Johns Hopkins University argued in a PNAS paper that most likely Iran will cease to be an oil exporter by 2014-2015.

The U.S. case against Iran is based on Iran's deceptions regarding nuclear weapons development. This case is buttressed by assertions that a state so petroleum-rich cannot need nuclear power to preserve exports, as Iran claims. The U.S. infers, therefore, that Iran's entire nuclear technology program must pertain to weapons development. However, some industry analysts project an Irani oil export decline [e.g., Clark JR (2005) Oil Gas J 103(18):34-39]. If such a decline is occurring, Iran's claim to need nuclear power could be genuine. Because Iran's government relies on monopoly proceeds from oil exports for most revenue, it could become politically vulnerable if exports decline. Here, we survey the political economy of Irani petroleum for evidence of this decline. We define Iran's export decline rate (edr) as its summed rates of depletion and domestic demand growth, which we find equals 10-12%. We estimate marginal cost per barrel for additions to Irani production capacity, from which we derive the "standstill" investment required to offset edr. We then compare the standstill investment to actual investment, which has been inadequate to offset edr. Even if a relatively optimistic schedule of future capacity addition is met, the ratio of 2011 to 2006 exports will be only 0.40-0.52. A more probable scenario is that, absent some change in Irani policy, this ratio will be 0.33-0.46 with exports declining to zero by 2014-2015. Energy subsidies, hostility to foreign investment, and inefficiencies of its state-planned economy underlie Iran's problem, which has no relation to "peak oil."

While Stern claims this does not have anything to do with "peak oil" it most certainly does. Iran would have a much easier time maintaining oil production if their remaining oil was fairly easy to extract. Also, their subsidized internal consumption is mirrored in Venezuela, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and a few other oil producers. They all have rapidly rising internal consumption that is leading toward declining exports. That effectively means peak oil for the rest of us.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 December 03 11:03 PM  MidEast Iran

Wolf-Dog said at December 4, 2007 5:29 AM:

"The U.S. case against Iran is based on Iran's deceptions regarding nuclear weapons development. This case is buttressed by assertions that a state so petroleum-rich cannot need nuclear power to preserve exports, as Iran claims. The U.S. infers, therefore, that Iran's entire nuclear technology program must pertain to weapons development. However, some industry analysts project an Irani oil export decline [e.g., Clark JR (2005) Oil Gas J 103(18):34-39]. If such a decline is occurring, Iran's claim to need nuclear power could be genuine."


When Iran runs out of export revenue, Iran will then certainly need nukes, but not just for civilian energy: Without that export income Iran would disintegrate completely, and therefore it must then take the oil fields of Iraq and Saudi Arabia by force. It is not too difficult for Iran to take the oil fields of Saudi Arabia (because these are in the Eastern part of Saudi Arabia and that region is populated by a Shiite minority that is the majority in that part of Saudi Arabia), but the difficulty is to hold on to these territorial gains after the invasion. Saddam managed to take Kuwait within a couple of days, but because he did not have nukes, he could not keep Kuwait.

And note that Iran is already making territorial claims against Bahrain.

But to build nukes, Iran can certainly afford to wait for a few more years until the "civilian" infrastructure is sufficiently built. And obviously Iran will keep many small projects in the mountains as secrets. After 2013, Iran can suddenly assemble many dozens of nukes within a year, since the required materials will be ready by then.

Another point is that since the U.S. government realized that it is impossible to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities by air raids alone, and that taking such action would polarize the western world. Instead, it is more clever for Bush to intentionally downplay the danger for the moment, and then to leave the problem to the Democrats later.

D. A. Riley said at December 4, 2007 7:22 AM:

The question must be asked, "Can we be deceived?" Yes, of course; our intelligence agencies have been deceived in the past. Iran has proclaimed (constantly and robustly) its intentions, that is what we should believe. It's been done; look how Hitler was emboldened to invade and slaughter. He proclaimed his intentions loudly and constantly, then he acted, because he was assured that the rest of the world was with Neval Chamberlin in his moral impotency, and lack of will. What did the intelligence agencies tell us then?

tommy said at December 4, 2007 11:01 AM:
Life is just chock full of surprises. If the 2007 NIE is right then the 2005 NIE is wrong. This is a shocker.

Maybe, but perhaps the 2009 NIE will conclude the 2007 NIE was dead wrong. Unfortunately, you never can tell. We don't seem to have very good intelligence on Iran. I've heard stories the Clinton administration bungled big time in some nuclear information gambit with Iran during the 90s and jeopardized most of our human intel in the country, but I'm not sure if there is anything to those rumors. Perhaps Iran is simply one more case where our human intel has atrophied while policymakers and intelligence bureaucrats focused on high-budget, high-tech approaches to espionage.

Wolf-Dog said at December 4, 2007 11:22 AM:

I am very surprised that Americans, even though they are multicultural and multi-ethnic, are not very good at infiltrating foreign countries, probably because television and junk pop culture is making even ethnic Americans lose their roots. Yes, we did hire some people from Iraq, but these people were not Americanized Iraqi people, and this hiring process was done by Americans who did not have the sophistication to choose who to hire, and we ended up with unreliable agents in Iraq. The British were phenomenally successful at infiltrating other cultures, and the fact that the British Empire had people like Lawrence of Arabia (who successfully adopted the Arab culture in order to gain their confidence so that he could acquire intelligence against the Turks), is not an accident, it is because of their cultural sophistication.

Dominic Caraccilo said at December 6, 2007 12:03 AM:

The recently discovered al Qaeda handbook, which is primarily devoted to the organization's strategy for forcing Spain from Iraq, contains a few telling quotes which shows al Qaeda's clear understanding related to the importance of President Bush's efforts in Iran:


Made-up of 54 pages in Arabic, the document has been authenticated by western experts of the Islamic radical terror network of Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden.

The document, entitled "the Iraq of Jihad (holy war): hopes and dangers," was prepared by the "information agency for the support of the Iraqi people — office of services for the Mujahedeen (holy warriors)."

It said the US plan was:

"The great troupe and cross bearing sect
will arise in Mesopotamia from a nearby river
the light will come which such a lore or
religion will hold for an enemy."

"to build an Iraqi state as conceived by the United States...and enslave Saudi Arabia politically, fight against Islamic proselytism as a salafist and jihadic movement."

"Where all is good, all well abundant
The Sun and The Moon
Its ruin approaches,
It comes from the sky,
As you sift through your exhausted fortune,
In the same state as the seventh rock."

In other words, while Bush critics have relentlessly labelled the removal of Saddam and the establishment of a Democratic government in Iran a "distraction," the members of al Qaeda showed with crystal clarity their understanding of the President's strategy. The difference, of course, is that al Qaeda is doing everything they can to stop this strategy while the President pushes it relentlessly forward, hoping to drive a stake straight into the heart of the Jihadist movement.

"Mabus will soon die, then will come
A horrible slaughter of people and animals
At once vengeance is revealed coming from
a hundred hands"

Do you see the fascinating irony of the al Qaeda statement? Al Qaeda is in perfect agreement with President Bush regarding the dire impact that a free and democratic Iran would have on radical Islam. At the same time, al Qaeda's strategy is exactly that of Michael Moore, Al Gore, and other hard left liberals, get coalition forces out of Iraq at all costs!


"Die dulci fruimini!"

Randall Parker said at December 6, 2007 5:39 PM:

Dominic Caraccilo,

Sunni Al Qaeda leaders look at Iran and sees lots of heathen Shias. Actually, some Sunnis call the Shias dogs.

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