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"We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
"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."
That National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is now being updated, but recent congressional testimony by senior intelligence community officials has been consistent with the judgments of late 2007.
Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed these issues in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 21.
Answering the question as to how soon Iran could have a deliverable nuclear weapon, Gen. Cartwright said:
"Experience says it is going to take you three to five years to move from having enough highly enriched uranium to having a deliverable weapon that is usable."
The NIE of 2007 stated that if Iran does decide to pursue nuclear weapons, "We judge with moderate confidence that Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame."
It appears that the time line for the hypothetical Iranian nuclear "threat" is slipping backward--not leaping forward, as Israeli officials and others insist.
According to press reports, the NIE-update will not be ready until August, and the Obama administration won't release its key judgments, as was done in late 2007. It is a safe bet, though, that we shall learn of the revisions in due course and thus have a better take on any changes in Iran's nuclear capabilities and intentions.
Getting Played Again
What concerns me greatly, however, is that the American people are being played again by those both in government and the media who wish to zap Iran.
"Do you think Iran currently has nuclear weapons, or not?" Americans were asked in a CNN poll taken earlier this year (Feb. 12-15). Seventy-one percent of Americans polled answered incorrectly, Yes.
That's very close to the percentage of Americans misled into believing that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons before the attack on Iraq in March 2003. Only later was the Bush administration forced to admit that its claims about an active Iraqi nuclear program were bogus.
Of equal concern to me are the statements of politicians who apparently believe we have forgotten the hype that got us into the Iraq mess -- and are trying again to stoke a confrontation with Iran. The front-burner question today is whether loose lips and looser thinking will lead to an even more disastrous war with Iran BEFORE the intelligence community finishes its update on Iran's nuclear capabilities and intentions.
Given the consistency of the recent testimony of top intelligence officials, I will be much surprised if the NIE update comes to conclusions that differ substantially from the judgments of November 2007.
Ironically, that possibility provides more incentive for those who wish to attack Iran sooner rather than later, much as President Bush pushed United Nations inspectors out of Iraq in March 2003 and rushed ahead with the invasion before Americans woke up to the fact that the inspectors weren't finding any Iraqi WMD stockpiles because none existed.