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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in his official "portrait" at the Pentagon.
From: Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern
To: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
Subject: Proposed Talking Points on Iran for Your Meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Regarding Barak's Speech at AIPAC, You may wish to draw on some of the following talking points for today's meeting, cast in the first-person, as though you were speaking.
Mr. Minister, I have read the speech you gave on Sunday at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The language you used in discussing Iran prompts me to make sure that you understand that there has been no change in U.S. policy as set forth by President Barack Obama at the AIPAC conference a year ago. There he said (three times) that his policy is "to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." (emphasis added)
You chose more ambiguous wording, asserting that "it is Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities which is the greatest challenge facing Israel, the region and the world today," adding that you do not believe sanctions will make the Ayatollahs "give up their nuclear aspirations." (emphasis added)
As you may have been told, I have a reputation for plain speaking. Let me just say that, from my perspective, loose words on issues of this importance are not helpful. Not only do they provide grist for pundits intent on finding significant policy differences between our two governments; they also can chip away at what you described Sunday as the "rock-solid U.S.-Israel relationship."
President Obama chose his words carefully at AIPAC last year: "The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program."
U.S. intelligence agencies are, indeed, exceedingly vigilant in monitoring Iran's nuclear program -- the more so, since all 16 concluded, "with high confidence," in 2007 that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon (as distinct from its continuing program to enrich uranium for energy) in 2003. As you know, each year since 2007, U.S. intelligence has revalidated that key judgment and has assessed that Iran has not resumed the weaponization activity halted in 2003.
The UN Inspection Regime
In preparing for today's meeting, I was pleased to be reminded of some of your more candid statements on this key issue. I refer specifically to those you made during an interview with Israeli Armed Forces Radio on Jan. 18, 2012 -- the day before Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey arrived for discussions in Israel. You were asked by your interviewer, "Is it the Israeli assessment that Iran has yet to decide to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?" You answered:
"The onlookers' confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break its subordination to the [UN's International Atomic Energy Agency's] control regime right now ... to try to procure nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible ... it is evidently not."
The all-too-familiar next question was one you handled with equal candor: "How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?" You replied:
"It doesn't really matter. To do that, Iran will have to dissociate itself from the control regime, to announce its departure from the control regime, to stop responding to IAEA's criticism, and so forth. They haven't done that. Why?
"Because they realize that, under the circumstances, when it is clear to everyone that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, such a move would be definite proof that time is indeed running out and might generate either steeper sanctions or another action against them, and they don't want that. That's why they are not doing it. ..."
A Premium on Candor
Forgive me for quoting you back to yourself. I do so only because I find it hard to understand why so few of your colleagues display comparable candor in acknowledging that the UN inspection regime has been effective as a disincentive as well as a monitor.
Let me ask you, as you lay down your duties as defense minister, to bring word to your colleagues back home that it is precisely that kind of honesty and candor that builds trust, prevents erosion of our "rock-solid" relationship, and thwarts those who wish to muddy the situation with ambiguity and hints of danger not yet there.