The big news of the day is the announcement, by President Obama and other world leaders gathered in Pittsburgh, that Iran has been working for several years on a secret, underground nuclear facility that has been hidden from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. The U.S. has known about the facility for years, administration officials say, but Obama decided to go public now because Iran learned that the secret was out.
The New York Times reports on the Obama administration’s thinking:
American officials said they expected the announcement to make it easier to build a case for international sanctions if Iran blocked inspectors or refused to halt its nuclear program.
“They have cheated three times,” one senior administration official with access to the intelligence said of the Iranians late on Thursday evening. “And they have now been caught three times.” …
After months of talking about the need for engagement, Mr. Obama appears to have made a leap toward viewing tough new sanctions against Iran as an inevitability. He avoided Mr. Ahmadinejad at the United Nations this week, despite his having said repeatedly that he would seek dialogue with Iranian leaders.
Well, that’ll show him! The Times reports that President Obama has known about the secret Iranian site since the Presidential campaign, when he received a briefing from then-director of national intelligence Mike McConnell. This puts his various pronouncements about Iran in an even stranger light than we had realized.
The Times says that Obama has reluctantly concluded that “tough new sanctions” are inevitable. Yet to be seen, of course, is whether “tough new sanctions” are even possible, as they will require the cooperation of countries that are not necessarily averse to Iran’s nuclear program. More fundamentally, there is no reason to think that sanctions will deter the mullahs from pursuing nuclear weapons. They are crazed religious fanatics, pursuing ends that seem irrational but that make perfect sense if your “main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi.”
One would think that sanctions will be of value only if they increase internal opposition to Iran’s regime. But if that is Obama’s strategy, his failure to lend even token support to that opposition is mystifying.
It is now impossible to deny that Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons and lying to international inspectors for some years. What is striking is how little the public revelation of this fact, long known to Western governments, appears to change the dynamic of Iran’s relationship with the West.
UPDATE: Tom Joscelyn provides his take on today’s “revelation” here. He points out that the intelligence regarding this site completely undercuts the intelligence community’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program. That estimate always looked like a bad joke but, as Tom notes, we know that it was inconsistent with the intelligence that we had at the time. As many of us suspected, senior members of the intelligence community most likely cooked the books because they had their own policy preferences – i.e. inaction.
Tom also reminds us that then-Senator Barack Obama cited that same NIE to justify his desire for engagement of Iran. Obama then lambasted the administration, saying that it wouldn’t let facts get in the way of its ideology. The question now, says Tom, is will President Obama let the real facts, which completely undercut the NIE, get in the way of his ideology – that is, his belief that he can talk the mullahs out of a nuke?
I think we know the answer.
JOHN adds: The National Intelligence Estimate concluded that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” The report defined “nuclear weapons program” to mean “Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”
At the time, we and many others greeted the NIE with skepticism as an implausible, politically-motivated document. We now know that it was wrong. Beyond that, it is hard to understand how it could have been issued in good faith. Senior administration officials now say that our intelligence agencies have known about Iran’s covert facility in Qom for “several years.” That being the case, how could the intelligence community have believed, in November 2007, that Iran had “halted [its] covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work” in 2003?
The conclusion seems inescapable that the 2007 NIE on Iran was a deliberately false document that was designed solely to embarrass the Bush administration and undermine its policies toward Iran.