Iran Nuclear NewsWhite House is confident of broad support on Iran

White House is confident of broad support on Iran


New York Times: A week after American intelligence agencies reported that Iran halted work on a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, the Bush administration expressed confidence on Tuesday that it had rallied international support to intensify diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran’s government. The New York Times

Published: December 12, 2007

WASHINGTON — A week after American intelligence agencies reported that Iran halted work on a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, the Bush administration expressed confidence on Tuesday that it had rallied international support to intensify diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran’s government.

On a day that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called last week’s assessment “a step forward,” President Bush responded by demanding that Iran disclose its weapons program to international inspectors and end its continuing uranium-enrichment program. Iran has denied it ever had a military program, and has insisted that it is enriching uranium for civilian energy use.

“We believe Iran had a secret military weapons program,” Mr. Bush said at the White House. “And Iran must explain to the world why they had a program.”

After a week of conflicting statements, senior administration officials now increasingly express chagrin that last week’s National Intelligence Estimate, a document representing the consensus views of 16 intelligence agencies, incorrectly focused on the suspension of a secret weapons program and not on the accelerated effort to enrich uranium. That undercut the administration’s main rationale for confronting Iran, and left the administration seeking to regain the diplomatic initiative for continued sanctions.

Acknowledging this, administration officials said that a United Nations vote on new sanctions, originally scheduled for this month, would most likely be deferred until next year.

The chief American official in talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, conferred by telephone on Tuesday with his counterparts from the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany to discuss a third resolution that would tighten sanctions on Iran’s government.

The new sanctions, one official said, could include economic strictures and a ban on foreign travel by senior Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program or suspected of supporting terrorism. Such sanctions would be somewhat similar to those the United States unilaterally imposed on the Quds division of Iran’s Republican Guard Corps, although apparently they would not go nearly as far.

The State Department’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that the conference call would be followed soon by another “with an eye toward, in the next several weeks, in the coming weeks, having a final Security Council resolution that can be voted on.”

Mr. McCormack added, “And what is very interesting about this is that we’re not talking about whether or not there’s going to be a resolution, but we’re talking about what are the elements to a new Security Council resolution.”

Since the release of a declassified version of the assessment last week, the administration has scrambled to salvage a policy that sought a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions while preserving the option of military strikes, or at least the appearance of such an option.

At the Pentagon, civilian officials and military commanders have been reserved in their prescriptions, warning that force should be a last resort.

In interviews since the assessment was released, those officials said it undermined the efforts to restrain Iran diplomatically, raising the prospect of Iranian defiance and thus possibly worsening the standoff.

They expressed concern that a public perception was taking root that Iran had somehow been exonerated by the new assessment, a view Iran’s president has embraced.

“If the Americans take two or three more steps, issues between the two countries would be resolved,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a news conference in Iran’s capital, Tehran. He went on to say that those steps could consist of dropping the sanctions imposed by the first two rounds of Security Council resolutions.

The White House has made it clear that it would discuss lifting sanctions only if Iran suspended its enrichment program, which it has refused to do. At a briefing, Dana Perino, Mr. Bush’s press secretary, called Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks “fanciful thinking.”

Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, expressed support for Mr. Bush’s efforts. At a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, he said Iran continued “to attain two vital components to create nuclear weapons: the development of a sophisticated electrical system and ballistic missiles, while at the same time producing enriched uranium.”

He added that Iran did not need “to act with frenzied haste to create enriched uranium — unless it wants to develop nuclear weapons.”

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, visiting Bahrain on Saturday, described the assessment as being “explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons program at any time — I would add, if it has not done so already.”

An administration official said that the new assessment was making its way through the government bureaucracies of Britain, France, Russia and China and predicted that it would ultimately bolster the case for more pressure on Iran.

President Bush spoke to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Hu Jintao of China last week to explain the new intelligence findings, based, officials have said, on intercepted notes and conversations among Iranian nuclear officials.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush again pressed his argument that Iran’s dissembling in its declarations with the International Atomic Energy Agency meant it could not be trusted to have a civilian program to enrich uranium.

“Iran is dangerous,” he said, “and they’ll be even more dangerous if they learn how to enrich uranium.”

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, Nazila Fathi from Tehran, and Steven Erlanger from Jerusalem.

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