The Times: Britain and France, President Bushs chief European allies, fear that last weeks US intelligence report stating that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme will be counter-productive in securing tighter UN sanctions against the Tehran regime. The Times
Tom Baldwin in Washington
Britain and France, President Bushs chief European allies, fear that last weeks US intelligence report stating that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme will be counter-productive in securing tighter UN sanctions against the Tehran regime.
A draft Security Council resolution being discussed yesterday by officials from the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany would extend punitive measures – including travel bans and the seizure of assets – to the 15,000-strong Quds force, as well as dozens of named individuals.
Although the document does not go as far as the US Administration – which recently imposed sweeping sanctions against the entire 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, and three banks – it would represent a significant escalation in the diplomatic pressure being exerted on Iran.
European diplomatic sources in Washington said yesterday that they were mystified at the timing of last weeks publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which declared that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme four years ago.
Britains own intelligence is understood to put more emphasis on Irans continuing efforts to make highly enriched uranium the key material needed for a nuclear bomb and suggests that any weapons programme could be restarted at relatively short notice.
London is nonetheless encouraged that the NIEs publication effectively takes military options off the table.
Key figures such as Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, are also said to be keen to counter the bellicose language coming from more hawkish colleagues.
One official suggested that publication of the NIE document may have had more to do with internal battles within the US Administration or an intelligence community still shaken from its failures to anticipate 9/11, or discover the truth about Iraqs missing weapons of mass destruction.
However, another well-placed diplomatic source said: What has this achieved? They did not need to put the NIE out last week. The danger is that this has made it much harder to get Russia and China to sign up for a new resolution [at the UN”> and that in ten years time Iran is more likely, not less, to have nuclear weapons.
President Sarkozy of France is said to be particularly determined that the NIE report does not lead the international community down a cul-de-sac.
Kurt Volker, a senior official at the US State Department, told The Times yesterday that the Bush Administration and its European allies remained focused on getting a fresh UN resolution. Iran, he said, continues to develop highly enriched uranium and a delivery system through missile technology. Weaponisation can come back at any time and we think the risk remains very high, he said.
Asked why the NIE report was published last week, he said: You cannot risk sitting on intelligence information. We cannot risk the accusation that we are manipulating intelligence for political reasons.
Mr Volker suggested that the NIE report should not be seen as a cause for comfort by Security Council members such as Russia and China which are thought to be unwilling to support stronger sanctions against Iran. Those who are dragging their feet, he said, are doing so because they want to drag their feet.
Yesterday President Ahmadinejad of Iran hailed last weeks intelligence report as a positive step that could help to end decades of enmity between his country and the West.
If they take one or two more such steps, the issues will be totally changed and . . . the way will be paved for the resolution of regional and bilateral issues, he told a news conference.
The US report
Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 and, as of mid-2007, had not restarted it
The programme was halted in response to international pressure
Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon by late 2009, but this is unlikely; 2010-15 is more likely
It still faces significant problems operating the centrifuges needed to make enriched uranium
Iran may have imported some weapons-grade fuel but not enough to make a weapon
Any production of highly enriched uranium for weapons would probably take place at a covert facility, not a declared site