Barak: ... confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now ... in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible. Apparently that is not the case.
Question: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?
Barak: I don't know; one has to estimate. ... Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn't really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA's criticism, etc.
Why haven't they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that ... when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that.
Question: Has the United States asked or demanded that the government inform the Americans in advance, should it decide on military action?
Barak: I don't want to get into that. We have not
made a decision to opt for that, we have not decided on a
decision-making date. The whole thing is very far off. ...
Question: You said the whole thing is "very far off." Do you mean weeks, months, years?
Barak: I wouldn't want to provide any estimates. It's certainly not urgent. I don't want to relate to it as though tomorrow it will happen.
Less Alarming Consensus
In a Jan. 19 article on Barak's interview, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz summed up the Israeli view as follows: "The intelligence assessment ... indicates that Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb.
"The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon -- or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision."
McGovern noted that Barak in the interview appeared to be identifying himself with the consistent assessment of U.S. intelligence community since late 2007 that Iran has not made a decision to go forward with a nuclear bomb. The formal National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 -- a consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- stated:
"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; " 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."
Despite complaints about the NIE from some American and Israeli war hawks, senior U.S. officials have continued to stand by it. Defense Secretary Panetta raised the topic himself in an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Jan. 8.
Panetta said "The responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them [the Iranians] " and to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon."
Panetta was making the implicit point that the Iranians had not made that decision, but just in case someone might miss his meaning, Panetta posed the direct question to himself: "Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No."
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