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Profile: Ellen Laipson

Ellen Laipson was a participant or observer in the following events:

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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