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The National Intelligence Estimate completed in November 2007 concluded, unanimously and "with high confidence" that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization in 2003 and had not resumed that work -- a judgment revalidated each year since by the Director of National Intelligence.
This has not prevented neocons and their favorite media personalities from trying to make Iran's nuclear program seem more menacing. On Meet the Press on Feb. 3, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the subject of attempted mousetrapping by NBC's Chuck Todd, who was hoping Panetta could be maneuvered into contradicting the NIE.
It was awkward for Panetta, but -- to his credit -- rather than apologize when Todd accused him of believing "the Iranians were not pursuing nuclear weapons," Panetta held firm, under considerable goading.
Finally, after conferring with co-panelist Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, with some exasperation: "I-- no, I can't tell you because-- I can't tell you they're in fact pursuing a weapon because that's not what intelligence says we-- we-- we're-- they're doing right now. "" (emphasis added)
So you have an odd choice, Mr. President. On this crucial issue, you can go with the professional intelligence analysts who have scoured the evidence for signs that Iran had restarted the weapons part of its nuclear development program -- and who came up empty -- the position embraced by your outgoing Defense Secretary who also was your first CIA director. Or you can go with the stated view of your current nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan, which dovetails with more alarmist warnings from the same discredited quarters that claimed Iraq had all manner of weapons of mass destruction.
Perhaps the way around this awkward situation is to advance the debate beyond this contradiction over intelligence and to declare that the United States is ready to formalize a permanent deal with Iran to prevent it from resuming work on nuclear weaponization. That would be an accomplishment worth cheering.