- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed what many knew: Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. The open question is whether America has the will to help stop this illegal and dangerous activity.

The report, released Tuesday, has the most detailed unclassified information to date on the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of nuclear capability. It describes activities related to nuclear-weapons development, including Tehran’s efforts to “procure nuclear-related and dual-use equipment and materials by military-related individuals and entities,” to “develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material,” the “acquisition of nuclear-weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network,” and “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.” The agency’s bottom line is, “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

The IAEA confirmed warning signs Iran watchers had been following with increasing concern. In particular, Iran continues to ignore U.N. Security Council resolutions to suspend uranium enrichment and has been working on missile warheads to carry nuclear payloads. The agency assessed Iranian missile capability and “concluded that any payload option other than nuclear … could be ruled out.” In a 2008 meeting with the IAEA, Iranian representatives admitted, “If the information upon which [the assessment] was based were true, it would constitute a program for the development of a nuclear weapon.”

The report sheds light on a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that claimed Iran stopped nuclear-weapons development in 2003 in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The nuclear program, called the AMAD Plan, was “stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order’ instruction issued in late 2003 by senior Iranian officials.” However, rather than folding up shop, as some in the intelligence community asserted, Iran’s program merely went underground as the Section for Advanced Development Applications and Technologies (SADAT), and work continued. The erroneous stop-work assumption in the 2007 U.S. report derailed policymakers for years and constitutes a significant intelligence failure.

The level of detail the IAEA discloses is impressive and signals to the mullahs that they are keeping few secrets from the international community. The classified information is no doubt more conclusive. Only the most credulous observers still cling to the belief that Iran’s nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes. These skeptics tend to think the only legitimate proof of Iran’s intentions would be a confirmed nuclear test, after which they would argue it’s too late to do anything about it and “containment” would be the only option. Unfortunately, this perspective still carries weight in U.S. policymaking circles.

Washington won’t be able to lead from behind on this problem. Other countries with more to lose, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, will increasingly drive events. The United States will be left with the option of backing their play and guaranteeing the Iranian program is ended, or letting the inevitable crisis spiral out of control.

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