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Context of 'Spring 2002: Bush Promises Saudi Leader to Work for Peace between Israel and Palestine'

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In his first Republican presidential candidate debate in New Hampshire, George W. Bush tells the audience that, if elected, he will overthrow Saddam Hussein. “No one envisioned him still standing” this long after the 1991 Gulf War, Bush says. “It’s time to finish the task. And if I found that in any way, shape, or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I’d take them out. I’m surprised he’s still there. I think a lot of other people are as well.” In addition, he would not lift the US sanctions on Iraq or attempt to negotiate with Hussein. A few newspapers and Sunday talk shows pick up on Bush’s belligerence, and the ones who do are often quite critical. The Boston Globe’s David Nyhan writes in response, “It remains to be seen if that offhand declaration of war was just Texas talk, a sort of locker room braggadocio, or whether it was Bush’s first big clinker.” Bush backs off his statement the next day, blaming his Texas drawl for causing the so-called misunderstanding. “My intent was the weapons,” he says, not Hussein. Republican insiders know better (see Spring 2000). [Federal Document Clearing House, 12/2/1999; George Washington University, 12/2/1999; Boston Globe, 12/3/1999; Unger, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative foreign affairs analyst who will become the future President Bush’s national security adviser (see November 2, 2004), briefs a group of prominent Republicans on the national security and foreign policy agenda of Bush. Hadley tells the assembled policymakers that Bush’s “number-one foreign policy agenda” will be removing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power. Hadley also says Bush will spend little or no time trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. According to Virginia Military Institute professor Clifford Kiracofe, who speaks to many of the policymakers after the meeting, many of them are shocked at the briefing. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Clifford Kiracofe, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

During the first presidential debate between George W. Bush (R-TX) and Al Gore (D-TN), Bush accuses Gore of advocating a policy of aggressive foreign interventionism, a policy Gore does not support, but which Bush does (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,” Bush says. “He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders” (see March 19, 2003). (Apparently, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) [Unger, 2007, pp. 175-176] Bush will reiterate the claim in the next presidential debate (see October 11, 2000).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

George W. Bush and Al Gore debate at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.George W. Bush and Al Gore debate at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. [Source: Wake Forest University]In the second presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Bush once again accuses Gore of advocating nation-building, as he did in the first debate (see October 3, 2000—as in the first debate, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) Bush, not Gore, has repeatedly advocated using the US military to overthrow Saddam Hussein and forcibly install Western-style democracy in Iraq (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “Yes, we do have an obligation in the world,” Bush says, “but we can’t be all things to all people.… [Somalia] started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong.… And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.” Author Craig Unger will observe that Bush’s debate performance solidifies his campaign’s efforts to portray him as a moderate on foreign policy. [Atlantic Monthly, 1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

Senior State Department official and former CIA analyst Flynt Leverett proposes a new, pragmatic approach to the war on terror. He believes that Middle Eastern terrorism is more tactical than religious: for example, since Syria wants to reclaim the Golan Heights and lacks the military ability to wrest that territory from Israel, it relies on “asymmetrical methods,” including terror attacks, to work for its aims. If one accepts this viewpoint, Leverett argues, one accepts that nations like Syria are not locked in fanatical mindsets, and can be negotiated with. Leverett, with the support of senior State Department official Richard Haass, advises his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to draw up a “road map” to peace for the problem nations of the region—if a nation expels its terrorist groups and stops trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, the US will remove that nation from its list of terror sponsors and open a new era of cooperation with that nation. Powell takes the idea to a “Deputies Meeting” at the White House. The meeting includes Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The neoconservatives—Hadley, Wolfowitz, Cheney’s representative—hate the idea, calling it a reward for bad behavior. Sponsors of terrorism should stop because it is the moral thing to do, they say, and until that happens, the US will not encourage their actions. After leaving the meeting, Hadley writes up a memo that comes to be known as “Hadley’s Rules.” They are simple: if a nation such as Iran or Syria offers assistance on a specific item or issue, the US will take it, but will give nothing and promise nothing in return, and the US will not attempt to build on that offer. Leverett believes Hadley’s memo is preposterous, sacrificing a chance at real progress for striking poses of moral purity. Shortly thereafter, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offers him a position as senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council; Leverett takes the job with the understanding that the Bush administration must begin real negotiations with Israel and Palestine. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Flynt Leverett, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, National Security Council, Richard Haass, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, flies to Texas to meet with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Abdullah has been working to convince Arab leaders to accept a proposed peace treaty between Israel and Palestine (see April 2002), but has had no support from the White House. The course of the meeting is later paraphrased by National Security Council staffer Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division. As Leverett will recall, the usually deferential Abdullah tells Bush that he has a direct question and wants a direct answer. Abdullah asks Bush: “Are you going to do anything about the Palestinian issue? If you tell me no, if it’s too difficult, if you’re not going to give it that kind of priority, just tell me. I will understand and I will never say anything critical of you or your leadership in public, but I’m going to need to make my own judgments and my own decisions about Saudi interests.” Bush attempts to stall, telling Abdullah he understands his concerns and that he will see what he can do. Abdullah refuses to be mollified. Standing up, he says: “That’s it. This meeting is over.” Bush retreats to another room with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss Abdullah’s position. Bush returns shortly thereafter and gives Abdullah his word that he will deal seriously with the Palestinian issue. “Okay,” Abdullah says. “The president of the United States has given me his word.” After the meeting, Powell calls Abdullah’s threat “the near-death experience”; Bush, rolling his eyes, says, “We sure don’t want to go through anything like that again.” As Powell later recalls, “It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing.” It is unclear whether Bush is expressing relief or making a sarcastic comment. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Flynt Leverett, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Flynt Leverett, the newly named head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council (see December 2001-January 2002), has worked hard for the last months to persuade Bush administration officials to consider a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, originated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, calls for “full normalization” of relations between Israel and Arab nations in exchange for Israel’s “full withdrawal” from the occupied territories. Abdullah promised that he can persuade all the Arab nations of the region to sign off on the accords. But even with concessions insisted upon by the Israelis, the Bush administration refused to consider the deal. Even after Abdullah persuaded every nation of the Arab League to sign his proposal, the White House refused to listen. In April, Secretary of State Colin Powell, accompanied by Leverett, travels to the Middle East to negotiate an end to an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Powell believes he has authorization from the White House to explore what are called “political horizons,” diplomatic shorthand for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Powell and Leverett use the Saudi proposal as a springboard for discussions. On their final day in the Middle East, Leverett, with a group of senior American officials, is trying to hammer out Powell’s final speech when a telephone call from the White House short-circuits the procedure. On the other end, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Leverett: “Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon. Those are formal instructions.” Leverett responds by telling Hadley it is a bad idea to abruptly stop negotiations. As he later recalls the conversation, Leverett tells Hadley, “It’s bad policy and it’s also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last 10 days.” Hadley retorts: “It doesn’t matter. There’s too much resistance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the VP [Dick Cheney]. Those are the instructions.” Powell is furious at the instructions. “What is it they’re afraid of?” he demands. “Who the hell are they afraid of?” Leverett responds, “I don’t know sir.” Powell will later recall, “I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, Stephen J. Hadley, Flynt Leverett, Yasser Arafat, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Douglas Feith, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Flynt Leverett, National Security Council, John Hannah

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of Mideast affairs and the prime proponent of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in that organization (see December 2001-January 2002 and April 2002), confronts his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, over the Bush administration’s continued lack of progress on such negotiations, and over its repeated broken promises to Arab heads of state (see Spring 2002 and Summer 2002). Leverett has fielded a furious phone call from Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher, who has just been told by Rice that all negotiations over the so-called “road map to peace” are at an end. “Do you have any idea how this has pulled the rug out from under us, from under me?” Muasher demanded. “I’m the one that has to go into Arab League meetings and get beat up and say, ‘No, there’s going to be a plan out by the end of the year.’ How can we ever trust you again?” Leverett demands an explanation from Rice. She tells him that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has called for early elections, and he asked President Bush to put all negotiations on hold until after the elections. Leverett, unable to swallow his indignation any longer, retorts: “You told the whole world you were going to put this out before Christmas. Because one Israeli politician told you it’s going to make things politically difficult for him, you don’t put it out? Do you realize how hard that makes things for all our Arab partners?” Rice remains impassive. “If we put the road map out,” she says, “it will interfere with Israeli elections.” Leverett replies, “You are interfering with Israeli elections, just in another way.” Rice concludes the discussion, “Flynt, the decision has already been made.” Leverett, disgusted with the lack of sincerity towards the negotiations and with the impending Iraq invasion, will quit the NSC in March 2003. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Ariel Sharon, Bush administration (43), National Security Council, Flynt Leverett, Marwan Muasher, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are re-elected to the US presidency for a second term. In the coming months, some important cabinet officials are replaced. Secretary of State Colin Powell resigns. Condoleezza Rice moves from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State. Her Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley becomes the new National Security Adviser. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns and is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez. Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge resigns and is replaced by Michael Chertoff. [CBS News, 11/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the first of its kind since 2001. Its central conclusion is that Iran is about ten years away from manufacturing enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. That doubles the previous estimate of five years. (The “five years away” estimate has been a staple of US assertions about Iran’s nuclear program since 1995.) Even then, the report states, it is unclear whether Iran would have the technology capable of using the uranium in a functional nuclear device. The NIE gives little support for recent statements by Bush administration officials that assert Iran is working hard to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, and that such deployment could happen much sooner than ten or even five years. President Bush has said repeatedly that while he wants to resolve the crisis with Iran diplomatically, “all options are on the table,” meaning a potential military strike is being considered. The NIE says that Iran is conducting clandestine work as part of its nuclear program, but there is no way to know if that work is on nuclear weapons development. Iran is, the report states, acquiring technologies that could be diverted to bomb-making. It is uncertain whether Iran’s ruling mullahs have decided whether to build a nuclear arsenal, the NIE says, but, according to a senior intelligence official, “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.” The White House has refrained from attributing its assertions about Iran’s nuclear program to US intelligence, as it did with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to Iranian efforts to conceal its activities, and questioned why, since Iran has tremendous oil and natural gas reserves, it would need a nuclear energy program. The administration is riven with infighting and competing viewpoints on Iran’s nuclear program, and this NIE does little to resolve those differences. The NIE also says that the US intelligence community still knows far too little about Iran’s nuclear program. The intelligence community gathers most of its information from communication intercepts, satellite imagery, and reports from the UN inspectors who have been investigating Iran’s nuclear program since 2003. Those inspectors have found facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, results of plutonium tests, and equipment bought illicitly from Pakistan, all of which raised serious concerns but could be explained by an energy program. Inspectors have found no evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear warhead design or is conducting a nuclear weapons program. Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden says that since the October 2002 NIE, which wrongly concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see October 1, 2002), the rules governing the creation of NIEs have been revamped to mandate “a higher tolerance for ambiguity,” even if NIEs would be less conclusive in the process. [Washington Post, 8/2/2005] In 2007, a new NIE will conclude that Iran actually stopped work on a nuclear weapon in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Philip Giraldi.Philip Giraldi. [Source: Canal+]Former CIA official Philip Giraldi will later reveal that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney is holding up the internal release of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran starting at this time, because Cheney’s people are not happy with the dissenting views contained within the document. The NIE contains widely differing views on whether or not Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. It also says that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is arming Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. Cheney’s office wants an NIE that bolsters its view of an aggressive, threatening Iran, and is not willing to accept the publication or the current Iran NIE. Giraldi says that the White House has decided not to release the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections. The NIE will not be released until December 2007 (see December 3, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Bush administration (43), Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Jonathan Landay, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nicholas Burns, Muhammad Sahimi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Shaul Mofaz, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Robert M. Gates, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Iran NIE.The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 pdf file] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Byron York, Mike Huckabee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Thomas Fingar.Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Former CIA analyst and National Security Council adviser Flynt Leverett, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, praises the authors of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007), saying: “We seem to have lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and tell it how it is. That is what the CIA and other agencies are supposed to do.” Speaking of two of the authors of the NIE, Thomas Fingar and Vann Van Diepen (see December 7, 2007), Leverett says: “They both felt the intelligence was misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. The conservatives are now attacking them, saying they are taking their revenge. It is not mutiny for intelligence officers to state their honest views.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Vann Van Diepen, Thomas Fingar, Flynt Leverett

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, McClatchy News, Public Broadcasting System, Bill Moyers, Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Dennis C. Blair

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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