Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said:
Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed in a Senate hearing – following the release of the classified National Intelligence Estimate in 2011 – that he has a “high level of confidence” that Iran “has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program.”
Mohamed ElBaradei – who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA – said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb.
Six former ambassadors to Iran within the last decade say that there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons, and that Iran is complying with international law.
The International Atomic Energy Agency states:
All nuclear material in the facility remains under the Agency’s containment and surveillance.
In other words, all nuclear fuel is accounted for and is being controlled and monitored by the international agency tasked with nuclear non-proliferation.
What about Iran’s enriching uranium to 20%? The IAEA considers 20 percent enriched uranium to be low-enriched uranium and “a fully adequate isotopic barrier” to weaponization. In other words, 20% is well within the legal guidelines for developing a program of nuclear energy.
Indeed, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is acting in a wholly legal fashion. As the six former ambassadors cited above note:
In terms of international law, the position of Europe and the United States may be less assured than is generally believed.
Most experts, even in Israel, view Iran as striving to become a “threshold country”, technically able to produce a nuclear weapon but abstaining from doing so for now. Again, nothing in international law forbids this ambition. Several other countries are close to, or have already reached, such a threshold, with a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody seems to bother them.
Nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt – former fellow in the Committee on International Security and Arms Control at the National Academy of Sciences, scientific consultant for the Federation of American Scientists, and frequent contributor to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – points out:
Iran is not doing anything that violates its legal right to develop nuclear technology. Under the NPT, it is not illegal for a member state to have a nuclear weapons capability — or a “nuclear option.” If a nation has a fully developed civilian nuclear sector — which the NPT actually encourages — it, by default, already has a fairly solid nuclear weapons capability. For example, like Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and Japan also maintain a “nuclear option” — they, too, could break out of the NPT and make a nuclear device in a few months, if not less. And like Iran, Argentina and Brazil also do not permit full “Additional Protocol” IAEA inspections.
The real legal red line, specified in the IAEA’s “Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements,” is the diversion of nuclear materials to a weapons program. However, multiple experts and official reports have affirmed over the years that they have no evidence that any such program exists.
But didn’t the latest IAEA report say that Iran was trying to build a bomb?
Not really. The latest IAEA report states that Iran’s research program into nuclear weapons:
Was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order’ instruction issued in late 2003.
While there are some allegations about documents found on a laptop, those documents apparently came from a terrorist group with zero credibility.
In any event, the current accusations against Iran by hawks pushing for an attack cannot be taken in a vacuum:
- The people pushing for war against Iran are the same neocons who pushed for war against Iraq based on false statements that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. See this, this and this
- The U.S. has been claiming for more than 30 years that Iran was on the verge of nuclear capability (and the U.S. apparently helped fund the Iranian nuclear program)
- War against Iran was planned at least 20 years ago
- Other recent claims against Iran have largely been debunked
- The CIA admits that it hired Iranians in the 1950?s to pose as Communists and stage bombings in Iran in order to turn the country against its democratically-elected prime minister
- Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says that the Bush administration (and especially Dick Cheney) helped to fund terrorist groups within Iran (see confirming articles here and here)
- The New York Times, Washington Post and others are reporting, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former national security adviser Fran Townsend and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey – who all said that the terrorists were going to get us if we didn’t jettison the liberties granted under the Bill of Rights – are now supporting terrorists in Iran
BUT DIDN’T IRAN THREATEN TO WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP?
It has been widely report that Iran’s president threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”. However, numerous experts in Iranian language and culture say that this was a mistranslation.
I speak no Farsi, know nothing about Iranian culture or idioms, and don’t like Iran’s president or hardline Mullahs. So I can’t weigh in one way or the other.
However, Iran has not attacked another country in hundreds of years. (In the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq was the initial aggressor.) As such, it is unlikely to start one now.
THERE’S A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THE ESCALATING TENSIONS
[A commentator] proposes a fuel swap to resolve the nuclear standoff: Iran would curtail its enrichment in exchange for foreign-supplied 20 percent enriched uranium fuel plates for its research reactor. In fact, in 2010, just such a deal was brokered by Turkey and Brazil but the United States could not take “yes” for an answer. Though Iran has just accepted an offer of new talks brokered by Turkey, new sanctions passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama have made it even more unlikely that the two sides can reach an agreement.
EVEN IF IRAN WERE TRYING TO BUILD A BOMB, AN ATTACK WOULD ONLY ACCELERATE THE PROCESS
Even if Iran were trying to build a bomb, American military and intelligence chiefs say that attacking Iran would only speed up its development of nuclear weapons, empower its hardliners, and undermine the chance for democratic reform.