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Iran, Russia, and the bomb.


By Rens Lee (senior fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute) Reviewed by John Handley

Assessing the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Rens Lee described the document's benign view of Iran's nuclear capabilities as "probably unwarranted" when it concluded "with moderate to high confidence" that Iran has neither a nuclear weapon nor the fissile material to create one. After questioning the NIE statement that "Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003," he commented at length on Iran's black market activity, the interdiction of four different smuggling operations that involved attempts to secure highly enriched uranium, the proliferation relationship between Iran and the former USSR, and the counter-proliferation work of the Materials Protection Control and Accounting Program. Lee noted with concern the "few hundred radiation monitors deployed along Russia's 12,500 mile border" and pointed out that only one-third of the program's planned stations had been established by the turn of the century. Further strengthening his challenge to the NIE, Lee referred to the puzzling 2002 comments of General Yory Baluyevsky--now chief of the Russian general staff--that as of that date Iran already had non-strategic nuclear weapons. Some 22 months later, General Baluyuvsky reversed his position, claiming Iran could not develop nuclear weapons "in the near or distant future."

From those facts, Lee concluded that U.S. policymakers should not disregard Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, even the non-strategic variety, since such a weapon could be delivered to any of several terrorist organizations. He consequently stressed the importance of American efforts to isolate and undermine Iran's current government: increasing economic sanctions; tightening the hold on Iran's finances; and providing support to Iranian opposition groups.

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee ( on February 29, repeated what he had told Chris Wallace of Fox News ( on February 17: The NIE failed to make clear that the "halt" of Iran's nuclear weapons program concerned only the third of its three elements: obtaining sufficient fissile material; creating a delivery system; and designing a warhead. Even if not presently designing a warhead, Iran remains engaged in obtaining fissile material and developing long-range missile delivery systems. The easiest part of the program, according to the DNI, is warhead design. McConnell went on to say that the U.S. intelligence community estimates that Iran will have nuclear weapons within the next two to seven years, the "best guess" being 2013. It appears that Rens Lee has good reason for his concerns. This article brings a new perspective to public diplomacy, international business, and their interaction. Read it in conjunction with Defense Secretary Gates' call for a boost in "soft power":
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Author:Handley, John
Publication:American Diplomacy
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 11, 2008
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