Tuesday, August 23, 2005

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Iran's smoking gun goes poof

Three weeks ago today Dafnia Linzer had a Washington Post front-pager on an National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran wasn't nearly as close to developing nuclar weapons as previously thought.

Three weeks later, Linzer pours even colder water on Iran's WMD progress:

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met in secret during the past nine months to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Recently, the group, whose existence had not been previously reported, definitively matched samples of the highly enriched uranium -- a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon -- with centrifuge equipment turned over by the government of Pakistan.

Iran has long contended that the uranium traces were the result of contaminated equipment bought years ago from Pakistan. But the Bush administration had pointed to the material as evidence that Iran was making bomb-grade ingredients.

The conclusions will be shared with IAEA board members in a report due out the first week in September, according to U.S. and European officials who agreed to discuss details of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. The report "will say the contamination issue is resolved," a Western diplomat said.

U.S. officials have privately acknowledged for months that they were losing confidence that the uranium traces would turn out to be evidence of a nuclear weapons program. A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran is further away from making bomb-grade uranium than previously thought, according to U.S. officials.

The IAEA findings come as European efforts to negotiate with Iran on the future of its nuclear program have faltered, and could complicate a renewed push by the Bush administration to increase international pressure on Tehran.

Link via David Adesnik, who asks, "The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"

posted by Dan on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM


Agree with Adesnik's point, except I think he's thinking of Iran, whereas I'm thinking of the U.S.

posted by: Anderson on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

The question from Adesnik is a probably just retorical one.

In the case of Iran, why would its government buy black market nuclear equipment from Pakistan if its intentions are peaceful?

The obvious answer would give at least two reasons.

First, no one would sell them any of reasonable quality on the open market.

Second, the whole fuss about the fact that Iran should be denied those nuclear technologies would have started the minute they tried to buy those items on the open market.

I doubt they would have gotten those items had they been open about it, resulting in a far more limited nuclear energy program.

There are very good reasons for a non proliferation policy, but I find most of the discussions of the Iran case rather obfuscating and full of pretence.

posted by: Dutch on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

" Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"

Um, to provide strategic ambiguity? Is this really so hard to comprehend? Think of all the really nifty offers Iran has received which it never would have gotten if no one thought they were close to having a bomb.

I mean, doesn't Adesnik have kids? Or wasn't he ever a kid?

Sometimes I wonder what an oxford education buys one.

posted by: Hal on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Precisely Hal, and exactly the reason one doesn't trust one's kid with a "civilian" atom...er nuclear power program.

posted by: Tommy G on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Hal beat me to the punch. Adesnik's question is the same silly refrain tossed out as evidence that Saddam must have something.

And Anderson offers the necessary question which requires the follow up: why does the MSM accept the Bush administration's dishonesty both about the capabilities of these regimes and the inferences one should draw from their behavior?

posted by: ross on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Adesnik's comments remind me of this speech of Deputy Governor Danforth's in The Crucible:

In an ordinary crime how does one defend the accused? One calls up witnesses to prove their innocence. But witchcraft is, ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not. Therefore who may possibly be witness to it? The witch and the victim. None other. Now we cannot hope the witch will accuse herself; granted? Therefore, we must rely upon her victims–and they do testify, the children certainly do testify. As for the witches, none will deny that we are most eager for their confessions.

Or perhaps more recently, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Now theres some "witchful" thinking!

posted by: Randy Paul on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

If someone chooses to intentionally act suspicious, it does seem reasonable to suspect that person of something, no?

posted by: Jody on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

this (above) is the same idiotic americanism gone completely wrong all over again as happened with iraq. maybe there are one or two leading iranians who give a damn about "strategic ambiguity" but the chances of that being the reason they don't want people up their ass about their nuclear program is really almost zero. the most obvious reason, and what is undoubtedly the case, IS THAT THEY THINK THEIR LABS ARE SECRET AND A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE AND THEY DON'T WANT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TO KNOW ABOUT IT! god damn, are you people seriously this stupid? when was the last time the USA has inspectors from france or sweden snooping around los alamos or the argon labs? Well, never, because they think those are private facilities and is a national security matter. Similarly, Iran doesn't want fucking international monitors snooping around its most sensitive sites. whether they are weapons producing or not.

God damn. and too, another obvious point is that after seeing what happened to Iraq, where the Americans lied their asses off, sent spies into Iraq dressed as inspectors, sacntioned the country half to death, acted like Iraq must be hiding something even though Iraq was being (more or less) perfectly honest... and then still blew the country into a million pieces, god damn, why on fucking earth would Iran want to be open about their nuclear programs?

say you are a thrid world nation like iran, your people are 90% poor. your air is shitty. and you have hardly recovered from a punnishing 10 year war with a country that was wiped off the planet a couple years ago by a country you hate even more then the one you were at war with. then, the empire is warning that "all options are on the table" (or whatever bullshit bush said) when it comes to dealing with you. you watched every day as saddam got a full, 10 year long rectal exam (all the way down to checking the toilet in his own home for the color shit that comes out) that did absolutely nothing but make saddam look silly and more vulnerable. not to mention, this is in a part of the world that seriously values privacy, dignity and authority figures.

you people have been reading bullshit like foreign affairs too long, you have lost touch with reality. it is pathetic. "strategic ambiguity", what the fuck does that even mean when you are a little country with hardly any way to defend yourself and you have just watched the the world's sole empire level two countries, one to your right and one to your left? seriously, can you people even think what they must feel like?

If I were Iran I would never allow inspectors. what good woud that do? they have every right in the world to have nuclear energy, and the most fucking belligerent country in the world keeps threatening to blow them off the face of the earth. what do you expect them to do?

posted by: ahmed on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

the only reasons they have allowed inspectors at all thus far is because they actually want to make nuclear energy and they can only get the technological cooperation from the russians if they allow inspectors. so their balance is to ask how much they have to do to keep the russians (and probabaly the chinese) from backing the usa against them. and since no country is willing to openly confront the USA, they know that at some point they will just reach a wall with the USA where they are screwed. if the USA gets too pissed off and forces the hands of the Russians and the Chinese...

posted by: ahmed on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Actually, the question posed by David Adesnik ought to be:

"Why would a murderous, terror-supporting (and terror-instigating) dictatorship with nothing to hide---and a spotty record of telling the truth, except where Israel's proposed destruction is concerned---constantly lie to international inspectors?"

posted by: Barry Meislin on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

I use _Foriegn Affairs_ for toilet paper.

posted by: No von Mises on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Do you truly believe that oil-rich Iran wants only nuclear power and not nuclear weapons also?
I believe, under semi-normal circumstances a country like Iran probably has just as much right to nuclear weapons as any other. However, these are not normal circumstances. For one, the ruling government is insane. For another, say what you may about the U.S., but Iran has been the aggressor in the region for 30 years. Look at Afghanistan, look at Lebenon, look at Iraq now; they have lots of fingers in lots of pies. What they are looking for is a nuclear shield so that they may continue their activities unabated.
If (and when) they get the bomb it will be the begining of a new regional cold war. Not just between Iran and the U.S., but Iran and all its neighbors; starting with the KSA.

How long will it take the KSA to get a nuke if Iran goes nuclear?

posted by: ElamBend on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

the US doesnt want foreigners poking around Los Alamos and Argonne, cause those places are used to, er, research weapons. So if the reason wrt Iran is parallel, that would imply Iran is also researching weapons.

Yup, it COULD be strategic ambiguity. And if someone creates strategic ambiguity, the responsibility for the consequences are on THEM.

If someone takes a bar of soap, carves into the shape of a gun, and paints it black, and uses it to threaten their neighbors, and they get killed by the police, its THEIR fault.

posted by: liberalhawk on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Although, on the bright-side, it's good to see that "fuzzy little foreigners" are afraid of us. Our evil plan is working.

But, Sorry Mr. Rumsfeld, let's give credit where credit is due

Nice job, Ahmed.

posted by: Tommy G on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

"The question, then, would seem to be the same one as we now ask about Iraq: Why would a government with nothing to hide constantly lie to international inspectors?"

On the one hand: most governments, everywhere and always, tend to hide things and lie about it.

On the other hand, if a government does have something it wants to conceal, it will lie about it.

In short: I don't think that Iranian deception has very much evidentiary power in _either_ direction. The fact that Iran is not open about its nuclear efforts does not tell us whether the efforts are for energy or weapons: in fact, there's probably no way to separate the two goals so cleanly, anyway. Any "peaceful energy program" that is nuclear also makes weapon development easier in some ways, I suspect (cf: "Department of Energy"), and doubtless some Iranian supporters (in the apparatus) hope that it will produce bombs eventually, while others may intend that it only produce megawatts.

In short: the way to deal with Iranian nuclear aspirations is to assume that they are there, to assume that some in the Iranian political class would like to steer it towards weapons, but that others don't. Black-and-white distinctions are no more useful here than they are in any foreign policy situation. In the larger picture, Bush's relentless black-and-whitism is probably more of an obstacle to a successful American foreign policy than all the neocon cabals supposedely hiding behind various curtains, I think. And here, it really is Bush, too...the President does matter (unfortunately for the United States' position in the world)

posted by: PQuincy on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

The question isn't one of declaratory policy. The question is what capabilities Iran has now and will have in the future. Specifically, how many centrifuges? Can it cascade them? Can it, that is, turn sufficient quantities of U-238 into U-235?
(And can it produce plutonium?)

posted by: Focused on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

I ask this question now & then but never get an answer ...

Iran wants a Bomb. Pakistan has a Bomb.

Pakistan fostered the Taliban and bin Laden and is very likely allowing the latter to lurk in its mountains without doing much to find him, lest there be a popular backlash against the gov't.

Iran is a Shiite nation run by clerics whom the Sunni OBL considers heretics, and has done little if anything to support al-Qaeda.

If Pakistan can have the Bomb, why can't Iran?

posted by: Anderson on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Iran cannot have the bomb for a very simple reason. The US wants the ability to invade it at any time. Having nukes would make that much harder.

posted by: Jasper on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Given the choice, who would you prefer to have the bomb, Iran or Pakistan.

Pakistan supported the Taliban (which is now much diminished) and Pakistan supports crazies in Kasmir. Pakistan has little real control over its western half.

Iran supports Hezbollah. Iran has blown up Jewish targets as far away as Argentina. Iran bombed the Khobar towers. Iran also had its fingers in Afghanistan (against the Taliban, but certainly not for peace or democracy). Iran and Al Queda HAVE worked together when it fits their purposes and Iran has allowed agents of said ring to transverse its borders.

Now, Pakistan has the bomb.

Do you truly believe that it is only fair that Iran (in the control of the mullahs) have the bomb?

I definitely have no problem with a rational Iran being nuclear armed, but no such entity exists.

posted by: Elambend on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

If Pakistan can have the Bomb, why can't Iran?

Because Pakistan already has the Bomb. It is, you may have noticed, quite difficult to do anything once a nation gets it. We're not starting a nuclear war for the sake of pure consistency. Yeah, in the abstract I think we'd like Pakistan not to have the bomb either. What can we do about it now, though?

I've never completely understood the whole thing about how Iran, or any other nation, must be really really close to having finished a bomb-- but not quite finished-- before it becomes ok to attack. Intelligence is always very uncertain; we can get a good guess on whether a nation has designs on a bomb, or at least wants other nations to think so, but it's really hard to tell how close they are until they test.

posted by: John Thacker on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

"If someone chooses to intentionally act suspicious, it does seem reasonable to suspect that person of something, no?"

What are the conclusions derived from applying that principle to the Bush administration?

posted by: Barry on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

two things Ahmed, first we didn't have inspectors at los alamos, but clinton allowed a little spying going on, oh wait, those are inspectors to you. So we have had inspectors at los alamos.

and two, Iran has stated the destruction of isreal as one of their goals and is very active in terrorism. But I'm sure if we let them have the bomb they will cut all those ties, and just be a peaceful nation. Hey fella, got a bridge for ya, real cheap.

posted by: wilky on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

"say you are a thrid world nation like iran, your people are 90% poor. your air is shitty. and you have hardly recovered from a punnishing 10 year war" twenty years ago. But you're oil rich. I'd say there's some bad management going on, and bad managers don't need to be trusted with nuclear bombs.

posted by: rastajenk on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

The issue w/ Iran can be described w/ a simple question: if Iran were a democracy, and a stable one, would anyone care if they had nukes?

Once a country has nukes, no one is stopping them but themselves. Pakistan already has The Bomb, they will not give it up, they're a moot point. Iran on the other hand, can be kept from obtaining one. So far it looks like they aren't anywhere close: good.

BTW: this should not be about the non-proliferation treaty, that entire thing is garbage. The line should be simple: except for countries like Pakistan that already have 'em, governments with no popular check on them cannot have nuclear weapons, period. The decision to potentially anihilate another country w/ the push of a button is too much for a single person to control.

posted by: b-psycho on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

Because they can and do in the non moral world of national security.

posted by: Robert M on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

apply perfect competition to nukes and you get a safer, more multipolar world yah? Or is neoclassical economics wrong again?

posted by: No von Mises on 08.23.05 at 06:07 PM [permalink]

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