AIR DEFENSE BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE CIVIL DEFENSE
November - December 2007
AMERICAN STRATEGIC DEFENSE ASSOCIATION
“Iran was a threat to peace, Iran is a
threat to peace
President George W. Bush, December 17, 2007
IN THIS ISSUE
The big news as the year ends is the unclassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate, which was released on December 3. Among other things, the summary said, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted jts nuclear weapons program.” Headlines called this an intel change of great magnitude.
What was unclear in the unclassified summary was that the program that was halted was covert; that is, secret. That rings a bell. The IAEA has been trying to get Iran to fess up to that program for years now. In the past year or so Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA and fending off efforts by the UN Security Council to get Tehran to halt its program to enrich uranium by confusing the two programs. The covert program may very well have been halted in the fall of 2003 when Iran began its enrichment program.
This sort of explanation was not to be found in the mainstream media. There goes the last of the Bush administration’s credibility, said the Boston Globe. The White House has known for months, the Globe went on, that the intelligence community was sharply revising its judgment on Iran, yet the president “nevertheless persisted in evoking an apocalyptic danger of a third world war.”
Still, Bush is right to be cautious about Iran, said the New York Times. It may be good news that Iran has no active weapons program but it is very bad news that this dangerous regime did, in fact, have one until four years ago. According to the NIE, Iran stopped its nuclear work “only after it got caught and was threatened with international punishment.” It is still trying to master uranium enrichment—the first step toward building a nuclear weapon.
The truth is, we can’t know what Iran’s capabilities are, said Frank Gaffney Jr. in National Review Online. According to Gaffney, the NIE report is the product of guesswork by career foreign service workers who hate Bush. In reality, only a tiny circle within the Islamic regime possesses “certain knowledge” of the current state of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Gaffney also declared our intel community to be “dysfunctional.”
Another article highly critical of the authors of the NIE summary appeared in the Washington Times, headlined: Officials Call NIE Authors Partisans. “Several current and former high-level government officials familiar with the authors of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran described the report as a politically motivated document written by anti-Bush former State Department officials who opposed sanctioning foreign governments and businesses. The authors’ aim is to undercut the White House effort to increase pressure for sanctions on Iran and to argue that Iran dropped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 because of diplomatic efforts in which the authors had participated, the officials said.”
Names were named in the Times article, which was taken under fire by others who pointed out that the NIE was the product of a score of intelligence agencies that had reviewed and signed off on it. That is correct for the NIE but not necessarily for the unclassified summary.
So, what happened in 2003 that caused the mullahs to halt the secret military program—as distinct from the civil nuclear power program? The obvious happening was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq in April of 2003. The NIE apparently never mentions Iraq. According to the NIE unclassified summary, “the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure.” Good State Department officialese! A review of ASDA Newsletters of 2003 fails to find any evidence of international pressure on Iran except the usual IAEA inspections of Iran’s civil nuclear facilities. The negotiations by the European Union to curb Iranian efforts to enrich uranium, ostensibly for its future nuclear power plants. Those negotiations dragged on for several years.
The July-August 2003 ASDA Newsletter does record the beginning of the IAEA suspicions about the civil program that eventually led in 2006 to referral to the UN Security Council. The following is quoted from that issue:
“Suspicion about Iran’s nuclear program prompted Mohamed ElBaradei, head of IAEA, to visit Iran’s nuclear facilities in February.  His purpose was to assure himself that these facilities were to be used only for civilian purposes. ElBaradei’s tour included a visit to the incomplete nuclear plant at Natanz, where it is said he was astonished by the advanced stage of development of a facility using hundreds of centrifuges to enrich uranium. Inspectors from IAEA have made five trips to Iran since June. In late August, information leaked to the press from the IAEA that wipe samples from the facility at Natanz contained particles of highly enriched uranium that could be used in a weapons program.
[This is about when the NIE summary says the secret military program was halted.]
“Ali-Akbar Selehi, Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, said the equipment was contaminated before it was obtained ‘many years ago from intermediaries and the country of origin is not known. Heretofore, Iran has insisted it developed the technology without help from outside the country. The report, which will be presented to the UN agency’s board on September 8,  alleges that Iran attempted to sanitize one of its nuclear facilities before allowing IAEA inspectors access. Iran is negotiating a new agreement with IAEA that will allow more intrusive inspections of Iranian nuclear programs. ElBaradei has told reporters that the discovery of enriched uranium on the Iranian equipment “worries us greatly.”
That is the end of the excerpt from the ASDA archives. So, why did Iran call a halt to its covert nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003? It certainly was not because of “international pressure.” It was because of the spectacular success of Iraqi Freedom, or the existence of the war machine of the coalition of the willing on their border, or getting caught red-handed with enriched uranium by the IAEA or being faced with more intrusive inspections by a suspicious IAEA or all of the above. It must have seemed wise to shift the whole thing to the civil nuclear program and master uranium enrichment under the guise of providing fuel for the nuclear power plants. President Bush’s position on this is this issue’s “quotable quote.”
North Korea has missed another dead-line. Specifically, the North had agreed to dismantle its main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon by the end of the year and also to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, facilities and materials. Just before Christmas week, the US ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, said, “We may not meet the end-of-year deadline, but I think we’ll get there in the end.” The path to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula has been long and difficult so it is good news that the end is in sight. Recall that after intense negotiations during the summer of 2005, the six nations—China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and the US—had signed a draft accord on September 19, 2005, in which North Korea agreed to denuclearize, rejoin the Nonproliferation Treaty, and host IAEA inspectors in return for a peace treaty that guarantees its borders (to replace the armistice that has been in place for more than 50 years), free electric power from South Korea, and a basket of goodies, including a light-water nuclear power plant of substantial size.
The day after the agreement was signed, North Korea announced it would not begin to dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States first completed the nuclear power plant. That could be several years away at best. Chris Hill, the US negotiator, indicated there would not be a start on the nuclear power plant until the North rejoined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and let in the inspectors. Clearly, the signed agreement must be followed by an agreed schedule for accomplishment of the terms of the agreement. That never happened because North Korea walked out of the next meeting.
Six-nation meetings were adjourned for nearly all of 2006. On October 9, 2006, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, with a yield of under 1 kiloton—a fizzle. The US and other countries condemned the test and the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718 on October 14, 2006, that requires the North to refrain from nuclear or missile tests, rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and abandon its WMD and missile programs.
On December 18, 2006, the first six-nation talks since the North Korean walkout began in Beijing. They ended four days later with so little accomplished that the mass media called it an “impasse.” That perception was because the North refused to discuss abandoning its nuclear weapons until the US lifted financial sanctions. Once that problem was solved, work began on the detailed denuclearization schedule.
On February 13, 2007, North Korea reached an agreement with the other members of the Six-nation Talks to begin the initial phase of implementing the denuclearization agreement of 19 September 2005. Key components of the February agreement included halting production at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and delivery of heavy fuel oil to the North. In July 2007 IAEA inspectors verified the shutdown of the Yongbyon facilities. On October 3, 2007, the Six Parties adopted a Joint Statement in which North Korea agreed to disable the Yongbyon facilities and provide a declaration of all of its nuclear programs by the end of the year. The October 2007 statement said the US would lead disablement activities and would provide the initial funding for those activities.
The US began the disablement activities immediately, observed by the other parties. On October 24, a key South Korean official, Back Jong-chun, said he expected the North to easily meet its pledge to disable the reactor by year’s end. Pyongyang “has a clear will for denuclearization,” he said. He predicted “significant” disablement should occur by mid-November. During November there were several short wire reports of progress in the disablement but also indications that the dismantling planned was so drastic that the work was taking longer.
Concerns also arose during November about the declaration of programs due by the end of the year. Much still remains to be confirmed regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons production capabilities, especially uranium enrichment. On December 1, President Bush took the unusual step of writing a personal letter to North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, “I want to emphasize that the declaration must be complete and accurate if we are to continue our progress,” wrote Bush. Dispatches in early January 2008 hint that documents received are neither complete nor accurate.
You will be happy to know that the New York Philharmonic will play a concert in Pyongyang in February. The stop is a last-minute addition to an Asian tour that already includes Seoul, South Korea. Kim is known as a movie buff. Now he’ll have a chance to hear western music at its best.