Not in a Tehran hurry after all
As Bush begins the last leg of his second term, the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran offers him an opportunity to resolve the Iranian imbroglio.india Updated: Dec 05, 2007 21:09 IST
Several faces in Washington must have turned red as the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran was declassified the other day. The NIE — a distillation of the collective wisdom of America’s top intelligence agencies — expresses with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme way back in 2003, even though it continues to enrich uranium. This flies in the face of the Bush administration’s claims that Iran is in a tearing hurry to build nuclear bombs and must be slapped with more UN sanctions to contain its atomic ambitions.
Although the NIE makes any possible American military strike on Iran’s nuke facilities redundant, it is unlikely to ease Washington’s jitters over Iran’s enrichment activities. There’s a clear disconnect between Iran’s insistence that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy development and its years of clandestine research. In fact, the speed at which Iran is enriching uranium suggests that it is meant for something much more lethal than generating electricity for civilian use. Tehran obviously wants to keep its options open on developing nuclear weapons in the future. Having said that, President George W. Bush’s eagerness to seize upon this to demand another round of UN sanctions on Iran is misplaced. And not just because the NIE will make countries like Russia and China even more reluctant to impose fresh sanctions. It’s clear by now that Washington’s efforts to use calibrated pressure to make Tehran fall in line has failed.
As Mr Bush begins the last leg of his second term, the NIE offers him an opportunity to resolve the Iranian imbroglio. Washington could initiate a dialogue involving UNSC members and Iran: a multi-party format similar to that of the six-party talks on North Korea. Tehran could be offered nuclear fuel guarantees (maybe by placing the fuel with, say, Russia) and tangible economic incentives to help the ailing Iranian economy. Tehran would then have no excuse to cross the nuclear weapons threshold.