NIE report on Iran highlights the danger of relying on national intelligence services
The former head of the U.N. arms inspection team in Iraq says more effort must be made to get rid of nuclear weapons and encourage all signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to live up to their commitments.
In an interview with Iran’s PressTV, Richard Butler also highlighted the dangers of relying too much on information gathered by national intelligence agencies. He pointed to the intelligence failures before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and this week’s embarrassing intelligence about-face regarding the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.
“How could one be so right on one occasion, and now this one allegedly right on this occasion, with two quite opposite results,” said Butler speaking from New York where he is currently Diplomat in Residence at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Butler said, “What it illustrates is that we have a desperate need for facts in this matter of Iran’s nuclear program, and the contradictory reports that were entered in 2005 and now in 2007 illustrate that dramatically.”
To varying degrees, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are citing the release of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that declared categorically that Tehran does not have a nuclear weapons program as vindication of their recent reports on the issue; reports largely rejected by Iran’s critics.
In early November, before the release of his final report, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei asserted that according to the finding of his inspectors, “Iran presents no clear and present nuclear danger,” a remark that earned him a sharp rebuke from Israel.
Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, called for ElBaradei to be dismissed, accusing him of ignoring the danger of Iran’s nuclear program.
Mofaz said ElBaradei’s policies “endanger world peace,” and described the veteran diplomat as “irresponsible.”
When the final report was made available in mid-November, the White House ignored the “substantial progress” made by Iran in cooperation with the nuclear watchdog. Instead, Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told a hastily assembled press conference, “It is clear that Iran has not fully cooperated. We believe we need to move forward with another resolution in the Security Council to impose addition sanctions on Iran.”
Khalilzad’s predecessor, John Bolton, went so far as to describe ElBaradei as an “apologist” for Iran.
Former weapon’s inspector Butler, however, was quick to defend ElBaradei, and called on Tehran to continue to cooperate fully with the nuclear agency.
“He has made clear, repeatedly, that there is not sufficient evidence to say that Iran has a full scale nuclear weapons program. But he has also made very clear that Iran is not completely cooperating with the agency in making it transparently clear exactly what its doing in its nuclear program as required under the Non Proliferation Treaty of which Iran is a member,” he said.
“ElBaradei is right, he is underlining the point I made initially, we need to know exactly what the facts are here and Iran could help us greatly if it would heed Elbaradei's call and cooperate more strenuously with the IAEA.”
Butler has frequently made a strong case for more emphasis and trust be put on multilateral United Nations agencies, rather than relying on national intelligence services.
“If anyone needed any contemporary examples of how misleading national intelligence reports can be, and they abound today, they should look what happened in the run up to the invasion of Iraq,” Butler said, “and look at today’s situation with two completely contradictory reports by the same intelligence authorities only a number of years apart. I prefer to stick with Mohammed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
Butler drew a comparison to the intelligence cited by the administration of President George Bush to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was in stark contrast to the information being provided by the United Nations inspection teams.
“The Security Council was told in 1999 when I left the job that we had gotten rid of virtually all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – there were a few that remained unaccounted for,” he told PressTV.
“Hans Blix succeeded me,” Butler said, “and then he looked at it all again right up to the war and he reached the same conclusion. He advised the Security Council that all of his research and inspection showed no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. And as for those quantities that were unaccounted for he made the excellent point that unaccounted for doesn’t mean they exist.”
“Many countries,” Butler said, “mainly the United States, went against that evidence saying they had other information to demonstrate that Iraq indeed maintained weapons of mass destruction, and was planning to make more.”
It has been well documented now, said Butler, “That so-called intelligence was wrong, to put it nicely, some would say it was fabricated – I won’t comment on that – but it was clearly wrong and it was wrong in circumstances where the international U.N. agency concerned over a period of years had made it clear there were virtually no weapons of mass destruction left in Iraq.”
Getting back to the current crisis with Iran, Butler urged all sides to take a step back, cut down on the harsh language and begin to talk. “I think we would all be greatly served if everyone would wind down the rhetoric and find a way to sit down and talk bluntly and frankly, and then negotiate on the basis of the facts. That would be a whole lot better than hurling accusations in circumstances that have now been revealed to be unclear at best.”
And could part of that process of talks and possible reconciliation include everyone concerned scrupulously abiding by their responsibilities under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?
Butler says the NPT carries two main obligations. First, for the existing nuclear armed states to reduce and then ultimately get rid of their weapons; and second, for those countries that do not have them, to never aspire to acquire them.
But while accusations have been hurled at Iran for its alleged ambitions, Butler says the existing nuclear armed states, including the U.S., have reneged on their part of the deal.
“It won’t be news to people if I make the point that the nuclear weapons states have not fulfilled their obligation to get rid of nuclear weapons,” he said, “They have greatly reduced the number of them since the end of the Cold War, but that process has ground to a halt.”
Butler said a review conference on the NPT in New York last year broke down principally because of the refusal of certain nuclear weapons states to allow further discussion of, or further progress in, their fulfilling their obligation to get rid of their nuclear weapons.
“So that has been one of the problems under the NPT, and I deeply believe it’s a problem that must be addressed,” he said.
The NPT, Butler explained, is supposed to be a fair bargain between those who have weapons and those who don’t.
“Now outside the treaty we’ve got the additional problem of a handful of states who aren’t treaty members and who have proliferated – have created nuclear weapons – I am thinking of India, Pakistan and Israel as undeclared nuclear weapons states,” Butler said, “this is a particular problem.”
He said the existing nuclear weapon states must do more to move toward the elimination of their weapons if they are going to have a serious chance of successfully encouraging states like Iran (and some others) to keep to their obligations never to make nuclear weapons.