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US confrontation with Iran

Iran's Nuclear Program

Project: US Confrontation with Iran
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The administration of Gerald Ford produces a strategy paper commending Iran’s decision to develop a massive nuclear energy industry. The document cites Iran’s energy security as a prime reason for supporting the plan. Tehran needs to “prepare against the time—about 15 years in the future—when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply,” the paper says. The “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Ford administration

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Western Business Interests

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger circulates National Security Decision Memorandum 292 on “US-Iran Nuclear Cooperation” outlining the administration’s negotiating strategy for the sale of nuclear energy equipment to Iran. The document states the government would permit “US material to be fabricated into fuel in Iran for use in its own reactors and for pass through to third countries with whom [the US has] agreements.” According to the document, the administration would “[a]gree to set the fuel ceiling at the level reflecting the approximate number of nuclear reactors planned for purchase from US suppliers,” but would consider increasing the ceiling “to cover Iran’s entitlement” from their proposed $1 billion investment in a 20 percent stake in one of the private US uranium enrichment facilities that would be supplying Iran. The strategy paper also explains under what terms the Ford administration would be willing to grant Iran approval to reprocess US supplied fuel. [US National Security Council, 4/22/1975; Washington Post, 3/27/2005] Three decades later, Kissinger will tell the Washington Post that the Ford administration was never concerned about the possibility of Iran building nuclear weapons or the potential for proliferation. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he will recall. “They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn’t address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger, Ford administration

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Western Business Interests

President Gerald R. Ford signs a presidential directive giving the Iranian government the opportunity to purchase a US-built nuclear reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Iran, with support from the US, wants to develop a massive nuclear energy industry that has complete “nuclear fuel cycle” capability so fissile materials can be supplied self-sustaining basis. US companies, chief among them Westinghouse, stands to make $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts. The shah has argued that Iran needs a nuclear energy program in order to meet Iran’s growing energy demand. Iran is known to have massive oil and gas reserves, but the shah considers these finite reserves too valuable to be spent satisfying daily energy needs. In a 1975 strategy paper, the Ford administration supported this view saying that “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” Top officials in the Ford administration—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who is responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency—are strong supporters of Iran’s ambitions. Kissinger will tell the Washington Post 30 years later that the Ford administration was not concerned about the possibility of Iran using the facilities to produce nuclear weapons. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he says. But Charles Naas, deputy US ambassador to Iran at this time, will tell the Post that nuclear experts had serious concerns about potential proliferation. Naas will explain that the administration was attracted to the nuclear deal “terms of commerce” and interested in maintaining good relations with the shah. [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Henry A. Kissinger, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Western Business Interests

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney unsuccessfully lobby for the construction of a nuclear reprocessing plant in Iran. The two men devised the scheme because, they say, Iran needs a nuclear power program to meet its future energy needs. This is despite the fact that Iran has considerable oil and gas reserves. The deal would be lucrative for US corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric, which would make $6.4 billion from the project. During negotiations over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger offers Pakistan access to this facility for reprocessing of its nuclear fuel. In return, Pakistan would not build its own reprocessing plant, which the US suspects will be used for a nuclear weapons program. However, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rejects the deal, and the plant is not built in Iran anyway. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 46]

Entity Tags: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Henry A. Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Western Business Interests

A. Q. Khan.A. Q. Khan. [Source: CBC]A Dutch court sentences A. Q. Khan to four years in jail after convicting him in absentia for espionage. Khan denies that he stole plans from URENCO, a maker of uranium enrichment centrifuges, when he worked there translating documents in the 1970s. Khan was employed by Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, or FDO, a company that was sub-contracted by the URENCO consortium. [MSNBC, 2004; CNN, 2/5/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, URENCO, Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

In Dubai, Sri Lankan businessman Mohamed Farouqand and German engineer Heinz Mebus meet with as many as three Iranian officials, presenting them with an offer to sell Iran the expertise and materials needed to develop a nuclear weapons program. Both Farouqand and Mebus are connected to A. Q. Khan, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear program who also operates a network of nuclear manufacturers and suppliers located in more than 30 countries. According to two Western diplomats interviewed by the Washington Post in 2005, the offer lays out a five-step plan which would begin with the provision of technical drawings for Pakistani centrifuges. In phase two of the plan, the network would supply Iran with a starter kit of one or two centrifuges. This would be followed by the sale of as many as 2,000 centrifuges, which could then be used to enrich uranium. In the final phases of the plan, Iran would be provided with auxiliary items for the centrifuges and enrichment process as well as reconversion and casting equipment for building the core of a bomb. It is not known whether or not the Iranians accept this particular deal; however, at some point the Iranians do eventually obtain centrifuge parts from Khan (see March 10, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Heinz Mebus, Mohamed Farouqand, Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The US Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the House Republican Research Committee concludes that by the end of 1991 there was a “98 percent certainty that Iran already had all [or virtually all] of the components required for two to three operational nuclear weapons [aerial bombs and SSM warheads] made with parts purchased in the ex-Soviet Muslim republics.” Shai Feldman, director of Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, will say in 1998 that he “didn’t give these reports credibility at the time,” and that it “seemed like the kind of information that the Iranian opposition put out.” He will also recall that at the time “everybody said there was no evidence of a warhead transfer.” [Jerusalem Post, 4/9/1998]

Entity Tags: US Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Shai Feldman

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan sells uranium enrichment equipment to Iran for $3 million in cash. Sri Lankan businessman Bukhary Syed Abu Tahir, Khan’s key associate, arranges for two containers containing used centrifuge units to be delivered from Pakistan to Iran via an Iranian-owned merchant ship. [BBC, 2/12/2004; Associated Press, 2/20/2004; Washington Times, 9/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Richard Falkenrath, Executive Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, speaks at the Washington Institute’s Policy Forum on the issue of Iran and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Falkenrath argues that Iran “poses a greater long-term threat to US interests in the Persian Gulf,” asserting that it possesses significant quantities of chemical weapons, is developing and has small stocks of biological weapons, and intends to “produce medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and beyond.” The US should be concerned, he says, because a WMD-armed Iran would allow it to “deter the United States, disrupt US-led coalitions, and foment regional instability and arms races.” He recommends that the EU end its unconditional political and commercial ties with Iran, and work with the US and other allies to develop a new policy toward Iran and states like Russia that have been supplying Iran with nuclear materials. He also stresses that “US allies should enhance their ability to participate in US-led military operations against WMD-armed adversaries.” [Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, 6/8/1998]

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Think Tank Activities

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel obtained a collection of Iranian documents containing correspondences between Iranian government officials and leaders of the Revolutionary Guards discussing efforts to secure nuclear warheads from former Soviet republics. According to the Jerusalem Post, “US congressional experts” determined the papers were authentic. But a senior Israeli source who is quoted in the paper says, “At this point, we can’t say for certain whether these are genuine. But they look awfully real.” The article does not provide information about when precisely the documents were found, though a US government consultant is quoted saying that Israel has “had them for years.” [Jerusalem Post, 4/9/1998]

Entity Tags: Jerusalem Post

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Israel

Illegal arms dealers sell 12 Soviet Kh55 (X-55) cruise missiles to Iran and six to China. The missiles, with a range of 1550 miles, would give Iran the capability to strike Israel. The missiles, designed to carry nuclear warheads, were manufactured in 1987 with a reported service life of eight years. [Daily Star (Beirut), 3/18/2005; BBC, 3/18/2005; Financial Times, 3/18/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/28/2005]

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

In Los Angeles, local CIA and FBI stations increase efforts to obtain intelligence from the local Iranian exile community. According to officials, Iranian businessmen and expatriates who travel frequently between the States and Iran are viewed as potential sources of intelligence on Iran’s internal opposition and the country’s nuclear program. Iranian-Americans interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2005 will acknowledge having supplied the CIA and FBI with information. [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), supplies the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information about two hidden sites in Iran—an underground uranium enrichment at Natanz and a heavy-water production plant at Arak. Iran will later declare both sites to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Reuters, 3/24/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Alireza Jafarzadeh

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the news of Iran’s restarted nuclear program (see August 2002 and December 12, 2002). ElBaradei tells Bush that the Iranians want to meet with an American delegation to discuss the program, obviously with the intent of negotiating a cessation in return for American concessions. ElBaradei offers to help set up the talks, and even keep them low-profile. But Bush is uninterested. His goal, as he later tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is to “free Iran.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that any negotiations that might succeed in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program would also serve to strengthen and legitimize Iran’s government; it is, therefore, worth the risk of a nuclear Iran to continue working towards “regime change” in that nation. This also helps explain why, several months later, Bush officials refused to consider Iran’s offer of the so-called “grand bargain” (see May 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, George W. Bush, International Atomic Energy Agency, J. Peter Scoblic, Mohamed ElBaradei

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases a report saying that satellite photos indicate that Iran is constructing two nuclear facilities (see August 2002). The report says the first facility, near Arak, is a heavy-water production facility, which raises concerns that Iran might be constructing a nuclear reactor moderated by heavy water. Lending further suspicion to the purpose behind the heavy-water facility is the fact that the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor does not use heavy water. Additionally, ISIS reports, Iran’s existing research reactors do not consume enough heavy water to warrant the need for a heavy-water plant. The report also says that Iran appears to be building a uranium enrichment plant, possibly using gas centrifuge technology, at a site called Natanz, 25 miles southeast of the city of Kashan. [Institute for Science and International Security, 12/12/2002; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 12/13/2002] The following day, Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif tells CNN that his country is not developing nuclear weapons. “No. Absolutely not,” Zarif says in response to a question on whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program. “Iran is a member of the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. We have safeguard agreements with the IAEA. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction do not have a place in our defense doctrine. We have stated that clearly. And we have shown it.” [CNN, 12/13/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Javad Zarif, Institute for Science and International Security, People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Iranian political leader Mohammad Khatami reveals that Iran has begun building two nuclear processing plants devoted to enriching uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, later says that one of the Iranian plants is already near completion and a second plant is well underway. Although Iran claims that the nuclear plants are strictly for peaceful energy creation, the Bush administration believes that the Iranians have used the cover of practices not strictly forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968) to hide a nuclear weapons program. One Bush official says that if the Iranians run the Bushehr reactor (see December 12, 2002) for five or six years, withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, just as North Korea has done (see January 10, 2003 and After), and reprocess all of their radioactive material, they would have enough weapons-grade uranium and/or plutonium to build as many as a hundred nuclear weapons. Bush officials hope that a combination of pressure from Russia and the US occupation of neighboring Iraq—one senior Bush official says, “I think the presence of 200,000 American troops on their border for X period of time may tend to concentrate their attention”—may keep Iran’s nuclear program under restraint. [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

France, Germany, and Britain succeed in persuading Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and permit intrusive inspections by United Nations monitors. The US refuses to join this effort, and continues to attempt to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for violating its safeguard agreements. Unable to affect the negotiations between Iran and the Europeans, Bush officials are reduced to mocking the negotiations, with the State Department’s John Bolton asking, “How many IAEA meetings does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” Bolton is later asked what he thinks about the Europeans’ “carrot-and-stick” methodology of negotiating with the Iranians, and he replies, “I don’t do carrots.” Author J. Peter Scoblic later writes: “The problem was that the administration didn’t really do sticks, either. Although the Bush administration repeatedly made it clear that ‘all options were on the table,’ it never explicitly threatened military action or established red lines beyond which it would force Iran to pay some explicit price. Absent coercion or diplomacy, the Bush administration’s strategy was essentially one of hope—hope that the Iranian regime would collapse, yielding morally pure victory. Unfortunately, just as with North Korea (see May 4, 2003), dramatic change was unlikely; not only was the regime relatively stable, but Iranian reformers appeared committed to the nuclear program as well.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, Bush administration (43), J. Peter Scoblic, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Under pressure from the United States and European countries, the 35-member governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passes a strongly worded resolution requiring Iran to comply with a number of demands related to its nuclear program by October 31. The action is spurred in part by a recent discovery of traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium at an Iranian nuclear facility. The resolution—sponsored by Australia, Canada, and Japan—states that Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment activities, submit a full declaration of all imported material for its uranium enrichment program, and grant IAEA inspectors unfettered access to all its facilities. Iran must also “promptly and unconditionally” agree to an additional protocol that would give IAEA inspections more access than currently required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors., 9/12/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/13/2003; China Daily, 9/13/2003; Daily Telegraph, 9/13/2004] The US, which has long argued that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, said in a statement before the resolution was passed that it believed “the facts already established by the agency about Iran’s nuclear program would fully justify an immediate finding of non-compliance by Iran with its safeguards obligations.” A finding of non-compliance would bring the issue before the UN Security Council, which could then levy sanctions on Iran. The other members of the board disagreed with the US position, instead arguing in favor of giving Iran “a last chance.” [US Department of State, 9/12/2003; Associated Press, 9/13/2003] After the passing of the resolution, the Iranian delegation storms out in protest. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Ali Akbar Salehi, issues a veiled threat that Iran might withdraw from the NPT. “We will have no choice but to have a deep review of our existing level and extent of engagement with the agency vis-a-vis this resolution,” he says. He also states, “It is no secret that the current US administration… entertains the idea of invasion of yet another territory as they aim to re-engineer and reshape the entire Middle East region.” [Associated Press, 9/13/2003] In Washington, a US official tells Reuters, “This time we hope there’s not going to be a way to escape because this resolution is really tightening the noose on them.” If Iran is declared in non-compliance, the official adds, “Iran will forfeit its right to share nuclear technology for peaceful purposes” and Russia will not be able to provide nuclear fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. [China Daily, 9/13/2003]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that it has found “no evidence” Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons. But it says that because Iran has been secretive in the past it is not ruling out the possibility. The report, authored by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, says, “To date there is no evidence that the previous undeclared nuclear material and activities… were related to a nuclear weapons program.” [CNN, 11/10/2003]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

John Bolton, speaking at a dinner for the right-wing publication American Spectator, calls the conclusions of a forthcoming IAEA report (see November 10, 2003) on Iran’s nuclear activities “impossible to believe.” The widely leaked report says inspectors have found no evidence that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. Bolton insists that Iran’s “massive and covert… effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities make sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program.” [Bolton, 11/12/2003] Responding to Bolton’s remarks, IAEA’s Director General Mohamed ElBaradei tells Time magazine, “We are not in the business of judging intentions. What we look for are facts and proof, and so far we have no proof of a nuclear-weapons program. The jury is still out.” [Time (Europe), 11/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, John R. Bolton, American Spectator

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Israel

Several Middle Eastern countries respond positively to Libya’s pledge to end its weapons of mass destruction programs, including Iran. “Iran welcomes any step taken by any country to dismantle weapons of mass destruction,” says Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. “But it is the time for the world to push for Israel’s disarmament, as the main threat to the region,” he adds. Israel reportedly has more than 200 nuclear weapons. [Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 5/1998; BBC, 7/5/2000; BBC, 8/23/2000; BBC, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Hamid Reza Asefi

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Israel

In an interview with a Pakistani satellite channel, Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan denies allegations that he was involved in selling nuclear secrets or equipment to Iran. “I am being accused for nothing, I never visited Iran, I don’t know any Iranian, nor do I know any Iranian scientist,” he says. “I will be targeted naturally because I made the nuclear bomb, I made the missile.” [Guardian, 1/31/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

2004: Iran Forced to Import Gasoline

Iran, despite being OPEC’s second largest oil exporter, is forced to import a billion dollars worth of gasoline due to demand outstripping the country’s limited refining capacity. “We use 50 million liters of fuel each day, 10 percent more than just a year ago,” Seyyed Reza Kasaizadeh, planning director for the national refining and distribution company NIORDC, tells the Persian daily Khorasan. Roughly a quarter of that amount is purchased by the government on the open market, and then sold to the public at the same subsidized price as domestically refined fuel—roughly 35 cents per gallon. [Iran Daily, 12/12/2004] In addition to the subsidy program’s actual costs, the program also represents “a huge opportunity cost, because they could be selling that at world prices,” Ben Faulks, an analyst for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, tells the Washington Post in mid-2005. Iran hopes that its nuclear energy program will solve this problem by reducing the country’s industrial oil consumption needs. The country would then be able to sell more of its oil at market prices and substantially increase its revenue. [Washington Post, 7/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Ben Faulks, National Iranian Oil Refining & Distribution Company, Seyyed Reza Kasaizadeh

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Oil and Gas

Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask a second time for the US’s participation in European-led negotiations with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program (see Fall 2003). Powell refuses. The IAEA and the Europeans—France, Germany, and Britain—believe that the US’s participation in the negotiations is essential to convince Iran to make real concessions. Iran wants assurances that the US will not attack it. Moreover, Iran knows that the Europeans will wait for US approval for any incentives they offer, such as membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). During the negotiations, an Iranian diplomat tells British negotiator John Sawers not to keep pressing the Iranian delegation to give up its nuclear weapons development program: “Look, John, that’s what we are saving up for the Americans. We can’t spend all our possible concessions in negotiating with you. We’ll have nothing left.” As the Europeans continue to jockey with the balky Iranians, the US continues to stand apart—“leaving the driving to the EU,” as State Department neoconservative John Bolton will later comment. Only in 2005 will the Bush administration begin giving its grudging support to the negotiations, but it will continue to refuse to actually participate in them. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]

Entity Tags: World Trade Organization, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, John Sawers

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

During a visit to Russia, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton tells the Russian daily Kyodo News that Iran is pursuing a secret nuclear weapons development program unbeknownst to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Antiatom News, 2/3/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, John R. Bolton

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors say they have found designs for an advanced P-2 centrifuge used to enrich uranium in Iranian hands. The designs, which Iran should have declared to the IAEA, match drawings of enrichment equipment that were found in Libya and supplied by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. [Associated Press, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Kimeya Madon, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

John R. Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control, tells the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia that Iran is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. “[Iran’s] activities [go] well beyond any conceivable peaceful nuclear program,” he says, stating that no “comparable oil-rich nation has ever engaged, or would be engaged, in this set of activities.” He notes that Iran’s uranium reserves account for less than one percent of its vast oil reserves and that its gas reserves are the second largest in the world. [US Congress. House. Committee on International Relations, 6/24/2004]

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton, House International Relations Committee

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves a top secret “Interim Global Strike Alert Order” directing the military to assume and maintain readiness to attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction, specifically Iran and North Korea (see September 2004). The plan is revealed to be formally called CONPLAN 8022-02. The plans have contingency strategies for both a quick-action, highly choreographed strike on short notice against an enemy that is an imminent threat and also a more generic attack against an enemy’s WMD infrastructure, possibly with the inclusion of earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. In concert with the military strike there would be coordinated disruption such as turning off the electricity, jamming and spoofing radars and communications, penetrating computer networks and garbling electronic commands. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, Calls for Overthrow, US Intel on Iran

The Senate passes Senate Concurrent Resolution 81 (S.Con.Res.81) calling on Iran to immediately and permanently halt all efforts to acquire nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, in particular uranium enrichment activities. It is not voted on by the House. A concurrent resolution requires approval by both chambers of Congress. [US Congress. Senate, 11/20/2003] The proposed resolution, introduced by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Az) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) the year before [Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 10/15/2003] , reminds Iran of its obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, lists several areas of concern, and urges the European Union to take a tougher stance against the country. It also calls for Japan to halt development of Iran’s Azadegan oil field, and France and Malaysia to withdraw their agreements with Iran to develop Iran’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fields. Additionally, it orders the suspension of all investment and investment-related activities that support Iran’s energy industry. [US Congress. Senate, 11/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Dianne Feinstein, Jon Kyl

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Brig. Gen. Muhammad Baqer Zolqadr, Iran’s deputy chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, says in a statement that Iran would launch an immediate retaliation if Israel were to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities “If Israel fires a missile into the Bushehr nuclear power plant, it has to say goodbye forever to its Dimona nuclear facility, where it produces and stockpiles nuclear weapons,” he says. [United Press International, 8/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Baqer Zolqadr

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Adam Ereli, the deputy spokesman at the State Department, says, “Iran is engaged in a clandestine nuclear weapons program.” Ereli adds, “This program is a matter of concern to the international community.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Adam Ereli

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Iran claims to have arrested dozens of spies: “The Intelligence Ministry has arrested several spies who were transferring Iran’s nuclear secrets out of the country,” Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi says. But he provides few details about the identities of those arrested, other than to say that members of the armed opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) played prominently in the operation. [Reuters, 8/31/2004; Associated Press, 9/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Ali Yunesi, People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Opposition Groups

The Shreveport Times, of Louisiana, interviews Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, who tells the newspaper that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers are on alert to launch strikes anywhere in the world against enemy countries suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. “We’re now at the point where we are essentially on alert,” Carlson says, adding that his forces are the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” (see also July 2004) and have the capability to execute an attack “in half a day or less.” The US has expressed its most immediate concerns over Iran and North Korea. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 9/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Bruce Carlson, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The Atlantic Monthly magazine commissions retired military officers, intelligence officials, and diplomats to participate in a war game scenario involving Iran. The three-hour war game deals “strictly with how an American President might respond, militarily or otherwise, to Iran’s rapid progress toward developing nuclear weapons.” Its main objective is to simulate the decision-making process that would likely take place during a meeting of the “Principals Committee” in the event that Iran ignores the deadline set by the IAEA to meet its demands. Kenneth Pollack, of the Brookings Institute, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, of the American Enterprise Institute, both play the role of secretary of state, Pollack with a more Democratic perspective and Gerecht as more of a Republican. David Kay plays the CIA director and Kenneth Bacon, a chief Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton Administration, is the White House chief of staff. Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel, serves mostly as National Security Adviser, but plays other roles as well. He is also the person who designed the game. During the game, Israel’s influence on the administration’s Iran policy is highlighted, with Pollack noting at one point, “[I]n the absence of Israeli pressure how seriously would the United States be considering” the use of military force against Iran? One of the largest concerns raised, shared by all of the participants, is that a US attack on Iran would provoke the Iranians to interfere in Iraq. “[O]ne of the things we have going for us in Iraq, if I can use that term, is that the Iranians really have not made a major effort to thwart us… If they wanted to make our lives rough in Iraq, they could make Iraq hell.” At the conclusion of the three-hour exercise, it is apparent that the players believe that the game’s scenario offered the US no feasible options for using military force against Iran. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Guardian, 1/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Pollack, Reuel Marc Gerecht, David Kay, Atlantic Monthly, Sam Gardiner

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Predictions

The International Atomic Energy Agency announces that weapons inspectors have found no evidence to support accusations that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear weapon. [CNN, 9/2/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill), a future presidential candidate, says in an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune that the US may one day need to use military force against Iran or Pakistan to prevent extremists from gaining control of nuclear weapons. He suggests that one possible scenario requiring the use force might be if Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is overthrown in a coup and extremists take over. Military force may also be necessary if negotiations with Iran fail, he says. “I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran.… And I hope it doesn’t get to that point,” he says. [Chicago Tribune, 9/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Pervez Musharraf

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Calls for Overthrow

Vice President Dick Cheney says during a “town hall meeting” at Minnesota State University: “They’re already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.” [White House, 10/5/2004] The Washington Post later notes that “Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago” (see 1976). [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Ford administration

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Oil and Gas

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) begins investigating a 1987 meeting (see 1987) where two associates of A. Q. Khan presented Iranian officials with an offer to sell Iran nuclear technology and materials. [Washington Post, 2/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Several months after the CIA receives an Iranian laptop computer supposedly containing top-secret information about Iran’s nuclear program (see Summer 2004), US officials admit they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 17-18, 2004). [New York Times, 11/20/2004] Under analysis, the documents begin to lose reliability. Nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation will later say that he and fellow experts began disparagingly referring to the computer as “the laptop of death.” One of the biggest warning flags, Lewis will say, is the crude manner in which the documents on the laptop were constructed: “What led many of us to have serious doubts about it was how utterly unconnected from reality some of the information seemed. Some of the reports indicated that some of the view graphs were done in Powerpoint, which suggested to me that the program was not terribly sophisticated.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006; New York Times, 12/4/2007]
IAEA Response - Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say that the laptop evidence, like much of the US’s other intelligence on Iran, is unreliable. “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong,” a senior diplomat at the IAEA will say. Another IAEA official will describe the agency’s intelligence stream as “very cold now” because “so little panned out.” IAEA officials are suspicious of the documents in part because most of the papers are written in English and not in Persian. “We don’t know. Are they genuine, are they real?” a senior UN official will ask. Another official who was briefed on the documents will describe himself as “very unconvinced.” Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, will call the laptop documents nothing but “fabricated information” and “nonsense.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Lewis, International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

An Iranian exile group says it has evidence that Iran is still enriching uranium and will continue to do so despite an agreement it signed pledging it to halt such activities. The group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), also charges that in the mid-1990s, Iran bought the plans for a Chinese nuclear bomb from the global nuclear technology network led by Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan. Khan’s network sold the same type of bomb blueprint to Libya, which has renounced its nuclear ambitions (see December 2003). The NCRI’s Mohammed Mohaddessin says the Khan network also provided Iran with a small amount of highly enriched uranium, though the amount is too small to use for a weapon. While the NCRI provided information in 2002 that helped disclose Iran’s secret nuclear program, many of its subsequent allegations have been proven false.
Claims - Mohaddessin uses satellite photos to show what he says is a new nuclear facility inside Tehran’s Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology (CDADT). He says that the CDADT also houses chemical and biological weapons programs, and that Iran began enriching uranium at the site in early 2003. Mohaddessin refuses to provide any evidence for his claims, instead saying, “Our sources were 100 percent sure about their intelligence.” Those sources, he says, are scientists and other people working in the facilities, and local citizens living near the facilities who see what he calls suspicious activities.
Reaction - Many diplomats and arms control experts dismiss the NCRI’s claims, saying the claims are an attempt to undermine the recent agreement Tehran signed with Britain, France, and Germany to restrict its uranium enrichment program. In return, the agreement says, Iran can continue working on developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mohaddessin, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, National Council of Resistance of Iran, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology (Iran)

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporters that the US has intelligence showing Iran’s active pursuit of a nuclear warhead. The evidence, Powell says, documents Iran’s attempt to adapt ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear payloads. He says: “I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems.… You don’t have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon.… I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.” Powell does not claim that Iran has the nuclear material—enriched uranium—to actually construct a bomb. “I’m talking about information that says they not only have these missiles, but I am aware of information that suggests that they were working hard as to how to put the two together.… There is no doubt in my mind—and it’s fairly straightforward from what we’ve been saying for years—that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.”
Implication - Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that Powell is implying that Iran is trying to reduce the size of a nuclear warhead to fit on one of its ballistic missiles, a difficult task. “Powell appears to be saying the Iranians are working very hard on this capability,” Cirincione says. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said just days before that it had not seen any information that Iran had conducted weapons-related work, Cirincione notes. The Bush administration is likely to press for sanctions from the UN. Powell says that the US will monitor international verification efforts in Iran “with necessary and deserved caution because for 20 years the Iranians have been trying to hide things from the international community.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]
Claims Said to Be Unverified - A day later, US officials say Powell’s claims are unverified, and come from a single, unvetted source that has not yet checked out. The single source is an Iranian citizen who approached US intelligence officials with a laptop computer crammed with documents and sketches purporting to be from Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 2004). Powell and other senior Cabinet members were briefed on the laptop revelations last week, and though it was stamped “No Foreign,” meaning it was not to be shared with any foreign nations, President Bush decided to share some of the information with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Administration officials tell diplomats from Britain, France, and Germany that Powell misspoke in alluding to the laptop intelligence. Powell’s office says Powell stands by his remarks. [Washington Post, 11/19/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph Cirincione, Tony Blair, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Iran agrees to suspend nuclear enrichment activities at its Isfahan and Natanz nuclear plants. The deal was arranged by Britain, France, and Germany. Iran insists the facilities are for peaceful civilian use and are not capable of producing the quantity or quality of refined products needed for the development of nuclear weapons. [BBC, 11/22/2004]

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The New York Times reports that according to unnamed diplomats, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes that satellite photographs indicate Iran may be testing high explosives and that procurement records suggest Iran may have the equipment necessary for making bomb-grade uranium. [China Daily, 12/2/2004] This information was reportedly provided by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) an alleged front group for the Iranian resistance group and designated terrorist organization Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [BBC, 11/18/2004] UN diplomats tell Reuters that inspectors for the IAEA would like to inspect Iranian military sites at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, and Lavizan II, in northeastern Tehran. However, the IAEA is not permitted to inspect those sites because it only has legal authority to visit sites where there are declared civilian nuclear programs. [China Daily, 12/2/2004] Five buildings in Parchin will later be inspected by the IAEA in January 2005 (see Mid-January 2005).

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, National Council of Resistance of Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Opposition Groups

During a dinner with visiting US nuclear experts, Iranian leaders Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rowhani say that Iran’s nuclear weapons research had been halted in 2003 because Iran felt it did not need the actual bombs, only the ability to show the world it could make them. “Look, as long as we can enrich uranium and master the [nuclear] fuel cycle, we don’t need anything else,” Rafsanjani says, according to George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Our neighbors will be able to draw the proper conclusions.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hassan Rowhani, Hashemi Rafsanjani, George Perkovich

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The US sends teams of US-trained former Iranian exiles, sometimes accompanied by US Special Forces, from Iraq into southern and eastern Iran to search for underground nuclear installations. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005; Guardian, 1/29/2005] In the north, Israeli-trained Kurds from northern Iraq, occasionally assisted by US forces, look for signs of nuclear activity as well. [United Press International, 1/26/2005] Both teams are tasked with planting remote detection devices, known as “sniffers,” which can sense radioactive emissions and other indicators of nuclear-enrichment programs while also helping US war planners establish targets. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005] The former Iranian exiles operating in the south and east are members of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group that has been included in the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997 (see 1997) and included in a government white paper (see September 12, 2002) that criticized Iraq for its support of the group. After the US invaded Iraq, members of MEK were “consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts” by the US (see July 2004) and designated as “protected persons.” (see July 21, 2004) Initially, the MEK operate from Camp Habib in Basra, but they later launch their incursions from the Baluchi region in Pakistan. [United Press International, 1/26/2005; Newsweek, 2/15/2005] They are assisted by information from Pakistani scientists and technicians who have knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] Pakistan apparently agreed to cooperate with the US in exchange for assurances that Pakistan would not have to turn over A. Q. Khan, the so-called “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” to the IAEA or to any other international authorities for questioning. Khan, who is “linked to a vast consortium of nuclear black-market activities,” could potentially be of great assistance to these agencies in their efforts to undermine nuclear weapons proliferation. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] In addition to allowing Pakistan to keep Khan, the US looks the other way as Pakistan continues to buy parts for its nuclear-weapons arsenal in the black market, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat interviewed by Seymour Hersh [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] The United States’ use of MEK is criticized by Western diplomats and analysts who agree with many Iranians who consider the group to be traitors because they fought alongside Iraqi troops against Iran in the 1980s. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bush administration (43), People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Covert/Clandestine Operations, Nuclear Program, Opposition Groups

Iran hands over documents from a 1987 meeting in Dubai (see 1987) to a International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation (see November 2004). During the 1987 meeting, associates of A. Q. Khan presented Iranian officials with an offer to sell Iran the technology and materials to build a nuclear bomb. However, the IAEA does not uncover any evidence suggesting that the equipment was used in anything other than Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program. The violations are technical and based only on the fact that Iran failed to report the program. Despite its recent findings, the IAEA investigation claims it still lacks a clear understanding of Iran’s nuclear program. [Washington Post, 2/27/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Iran allows International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to visit five buildings at the Parchin military site in response to US allegations that Iran has used the site to test explosives components for a nuclear bomb. Other buildings in the area, and four other areas at the Parchin site that the agency has identified as being of potential interest, remain off limits to inspectors. During their visit, the inspectors take samples to test for the presence of nuclear activity. [BBC, 1/5/2005; Weekend Australian, 1/13/2005; BBC, 1/19/2005; BBC, 1/19/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/28/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) says that it has provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information that Iran is now producing polonium-210, beryllium, and neutron generators, giving Iran the capability to produce a detonator. MEK claims that Iran plans to have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2005. Mohammed Mohaddessin, head of the group’s foreign affairs committee, tells reporters that the information was obtained from “the Iranian people” and MEK’s network inside Iran. [Associated Press, 2/3/2005; Associated Press, 2/3/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mohaddessin, International Atomic Energy Agency, People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Category Tags: US MEK policy, Nuclear Program

A. Q: Khan (right) and Mahathir bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 (left).A. Q: Khan (right) and Mahathir bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 (left). [Source: CBC]A Sri Lankan named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir is accused by President Bush of being the chief financial officer for an international nuclear black market linked to A. Q. Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Tahir sat on the board of Kaspudu Sendirian Berhad, which is owned by the Malaysian prime minister’s son, Kamaluddin Abdullah. The Associated Press claims that a search of publicly accessible files revealed the paper trail that outlines links between Abdullah and Abu Tahir. The paperwork revealed that they were both executives at Kaspudu Sendirian Berhad when Tahir made a deal for Scomi Precision Engineering to build components that Western intelligence sources claim were for use in Libya’s nuclear program. The Scomi Group fulfilled a $3.5 million manufacturing contract for machine parts negotiated by Tahir. Scomi officials say they did not know what the parts were for, while nonproliferation authorities claim they were for 14 centrifuges. US officials insist the components, tubes made up of thousands of small pieces, could only be used in a uranium enrichment program. A Scomi spokeswoman insisted that the company was told the parts were for the oil and gas industry. After the revelation, Abdullah severs ties to Tahir. Malaysian police say neither Tahir or Scomi have committed any crime and no arrests have been made, which the official government report backed up. President Bush has accused Tahir of using a Dubai based company called Gulf Technical Industries as a front for Khan’s network. [Malaysia, 2/21/2004; Time, 2/16/2005; CNN, 2/18/2005]

Entity Tags: The Scomi Group, Scomi Precision Engineering, Kamaluddin Abdullah, Gulf Technical Industries, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, Kaspudu Sendirian Berhad, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

In Iran, a blast occurring at a dam construction site near the town of Dailam triggers false reports of a missile strike on Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant. News of the blast sends stocks on Wall Street downward and pushes up oil prices. Iranian official Ali Agha Mohammadi of the Supreme National Security Council claims that the false reports were engineered by Washington as part of “psychological warfare” against Tehran. [Associated Press, 2/16/2005; Fox News, 2/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Ali Agha Mohammadi, Iranian Supreme National Security Council

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Oil and Gas

Hassan Rowhani, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, tells France’s Le Monde newspaper that Iran may be hiding its nuclear technology inside special tunnels because of threats of attack by the United States. Rowhani is asked, “Is it accurate that Iran has built tunnels meant to serve Iran’s nuclear activities?” He responds that these reports “could be true.… From the moment the Americans threaten to attack our nuclear sites, what are we to do? We have to put them somewhere.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Hassan Rowhani

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Preparation

Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, and Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh sign a nuclear fuel supply deal. Under the provisions of the agreement, Russia will supply Iran with uranium fuel for Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant, which once complete will produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity. Iran will be required to return all of the spent fuel to Russia to prevent the possibility that some of it will be used to produce bomb-grade plutonium. According to Rumyantsev, the first batch of enriched uranium fuel is waiting in Siberia ready to be shipped. [Reuters, 2/27/2005; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005] Russia’s more than $1 billion contract to build the reactor is said to have played a significant role in maintaining the strength of Russia’s nuclear energy industry. Russia, which has sent more than 2,000 workers to work with 3,000 Iranians at Bushehr, is keen on securing more contracts with the Iranian government. An additional 1,500 Russian specialists are scheduled to go to Bushehr soon to install more equipment. [Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Alexander Rumyantsev, Gholamreza Aghazadeh

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

In response to a BBC request for her views on the crisis in Iran, Danielle Pletka of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute says: “The longer we wait and the more we negotiate, the longer Iran has to pursue a covert [nuclear] program…. The road to co-operation between Europe and the US involves pursuing the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine because it will force the Iranians to be serious about dealing with the friendlier party. However, there’s a suspicion in the US and in Europe, and a strong certainty in Iran, that when push comes to shove, the Europeans aren’t going to be willing to cut the ties with the Iranians and say simply that Iran has been cheating, the deal is broken. We need to persuade the Europeans that even if you’re the good cop, you have to be prepared to pull the gun and make the arrest.” [BBC, 3/1/2005; Christian Science Monitor, 3/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports in a statement to its 35-member board that the agency’s inspectors continue to have lingering questions about Iranian activities at the Parchin military site and that Iran has denied requests for additional visits to the complex (see Mid-January 2005). [BBC, 3/1/2005] Iran claims that it is not legally required to allow further inspections at Parchin, reasoning in a February 27 note to the IAEA that the “expectation of the Safeguards Department in visiting specified zones and points in Parchin Complex are fulfilled and thus there is no justification for any additional visit.” The agency disagrees. [New York Times, 3/1/2005] Additionally, the agency says in its statement that Iran has failed to provide information on how Iran obtained its advanced P-2 centrifuge equipment. The inspectors also say they are concerned about certain dual-use technologies at the Lavisan site, which Iran is also refusing to open to inspectors. [New York Times, 3/1/2005] A Western diplomat says the statement demonstrates “another failure to disclose activities, which fits a disturbing pattern,” adding, “It’s more evidence that the Iranians are unwilling to provide full disclosure.” [New York Times, 3/1/2005] But other officials note that the statement contains no evidence that Iran has an active weapons program. “The facts don’t support an innocent or guilty verdict at this point,” one agency official observes. [New York Times, 3/1/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Jackie Sanders, chief US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, accuses Iran of “cynically” pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and attempting to deceive the world with claims that its nuclear program is peaceful. Her comments are in response to a recent report by the IAEA that said that Iran is not cooperating fully with inspectors, is continuing to construct a heavy water reactor despite agency requests to stop building, and is not fulfilling its reporting requirements in a timely fashion. Sanders called the IAEA report a “startling list of Iranian attempts to hide and mislead and delay the work” of the IAEA. [Associated Press, 3/2/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Jackie Sanders

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases satellite images that show a heavy water plant under construction in Iran. Critics of Iran’s nuclear program say that once the plant is complete, it will be capable of supplying a heavy water reactor with enough heavy water to produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb a year. But the heavy water plant is not illegal and Iran does not yet have a heavy water reactor. Iran claims its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only. [Reuters, 3/4/2005; Institute for Science and International Security, 3/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Institute for Science and International Security

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The Bush administration says it will not back Europe’s plan to offer Iran economic and political incentives to abandon its uranium enrichment program unless there is a way to enforce it. The Bush administration favors an arrangement where the issue would be hauled before the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions, in the event of Iranian non-compliance. [Reuters, 3/4/2005]

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, says the Middle East will become even more unstable if Iran is sent to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program. “This would be a particular problem for the United States because it has a lot of troops and equipment in [the] region and is in fact our imposed neighbor,” he says. Iran has complained that United States forces have effectively encircled it, with troops stationed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. [Al Jazeera, 3/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Hassan Rohani, United Nations Security Council

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Pakistan Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed says that the now pardoned A. Q. Khan was involved in black market nuclear arms deals and that he gave the Iranians centrifuge parts. “[Khan] had given centrifuges to Iran in his individual capacity and the government of Pakistan had nothing to do with this,” Ahmed tells reporters. Despite these acknowledgments, Ahmed says Pakistan “will not hand over [Khan] to any other country.” The Pakistani government insists that it had no knowledge of Khan’s activities, but numerous experts have questioned these claims noting that it would have been impossible for him to keep his activities secret. [BBC, 3/10/2005; CNN, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The United States and European Union (EU) indicate that they are ready to work together on a diplomatic approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear program. Condoleezza Rice says that the US is willing to drop it objections to Iran’s application to the WTO and “consider, on a case-by-case basis, the licensing of spare parts of Iranian civilian aircraft.” Europe, on the other hand, which has been under pressure from the Bush administration to harden its policy toward Iran, says it will have “no choice” but to support the issue being brought up at the UN Security Council if Iran does not discontinue its suspected nuclear weapons program. Up until now, the US and EU have been unable to agree on a single approach to dealing with Iran. [New York Times, 3/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Iran says that incentives put forward by Europe and the United States the previous day (see March 11, 2005) are meaningless. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to use peaceful nuclear technology and no pressure, intimidation or threat can make Iran give up its right,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. The European Union and United States unveiled a “carrot and stick” approach to pressure Tehran to give up uranium enrichment which can be used to make bomb-grade fuel. Asefi argues that US prohibitions against the sale of aircraft spare parts to Iran should never have been imposed in the first place. “Lifting them is no concession and entering the WTO is a clear right of all countries.” He also says that Iran would be happy to implement measures—such as allowing intrusive UN inspections of its nuclear sites—in order to provide “objective guarantees” that it is not developing nuclear weapons. [Reuters, 3/12/2005; Voice of America, 3/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Hamid Reza Asefi

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the agency believes Iran will probably have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon “early in the next decade.” [Washington Times, 2/21/2005; US Congress. Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Lowell E. Jacoby

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tells pilgrims in Mashad that it is “fiction” that Iran is developing an atomic bomb. He says that he would give his life on the battlefield if Iran were attacked by the US and adds that he would not go into hiding if that were to occur, referring to President Bush’s low profile during the September 11 attacks. [Al Jazeera, 3/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ali Khamenei, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Predictions

Alireza Jafarzadeh—a former spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an organization that is listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization (see August 15, 2003)—says that according to “well-placed sources” within the Iranian regime, “Iran has completed an underground tunnel-like facility in Parchin, which is now engaged in laser enrichment.” Jafarzadeh, who now heads the Washington-based think-tank Strategic Policy Consulting and regularly serves as a Fox News foreign affairs analyst, also says that “the underground site is camouflaged and built in an area of Parchin that deals with the chemical industry.” It is connected to “Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program,” he further claims. The underground facility is reportedly located in an area known as “Plan 1.” [Fox News, 2/20/2005; Reuters, 3/24/2005; Associated Press, 3/24/2005; Seattle Times, 3/25/2005] Iran has refused to give inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access to Parchin (see March 1, 2005), and the US alleges that Iran is testing explosive devices there that could be used in nuclear weapons.

Entity Tags: Fox News, Alireza Jafarzadeh, National Council of Resistance of Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Iran presents the European Union with a proposal whereby Iran would be permitted to produce enriched uranium on a small scale. The proposed pilot plant would have a small number of centrifuges, arranged in successive order to refine out enriched uranium. Experts say the plan would involve 500 to 2,000 centrifuges as opposed to the 54,000 that Iran currently has planned for large-scale industrial use. As part of the proposed agreement, Iranian officials would allow close monitoring of the pilot facility by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Agence France-Presse, 3/24/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami personally accompanies about 30 journalists deep into the underground nuclear plant at Natanz, a uranium enrichment facility located 250 km (150 miles) south of Tehran. The group of foreign and local journalists is permitted to film and take video footage of the complex. Natanz is built more than 18 meters (54 feet) below ground due to “security problems.” The journalists are shown another facility in the city of Isfahan. “If we were looking to make atomic weapons, we could have completed these [facilities] in hiding,” Khatami tells the reporters. The gesture is viewed by many as an attempt to undermine support for a possible aerial attack by the United States or Israel. [Reuters, 3/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

The Mujahedeen-e Khalq’s (MEK) political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), holds a press conference in Paris. Mohammed Mohaddessin of the NCRI tells reporters, “In mid-2004, [Iran’s supreme leader] Khamenei allocated $2.5 billion to obtain three nuclear warheads.” Mohaddessin claims the Iranian regime is accelerating work on a reactor in Arak, 150 miles south of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb per year. “The regime told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the reactor would be operational in 2014, but in reality, they want to start it in 2006 or 2007,” he says. In August 2002, the NCRI first revealed information about the Arak heavy-water production plant, along with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (see August 2002) describing it then as part of a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran later declared both sites to the IAEA. [Reuters, 3/31/2005; National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, 5/12/2005]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Mohammed Mohaddessin, National Council of Resistance of Iran

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Speaking at a forum on Middle East peace sponsored by The Week magazine, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warns that if Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons it could touch off an arms race that could lead to the end of civilization. “I do not believe that living in a world with 20 or 30 nuclear states is a situation that civilized life can support,” he says. [New York Daily News, 4/15/2005] But during the 1970s, Kissinger and other US officials had supported Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear energy program (see 1976 and April 22, 1975). At the time, they were not concerned about the potential for Iran to use the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Nor were they concerned about proliferation. Kissinger told the Washington Post in March that he did not “think the issue of proliferation came up.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismisses Israeli concerns that Russian sales of nuclear components to Iran represent a threat to Israel’s security. According to the terms of Russia’s agreement with Iran, Putin explains, Iran must return all of its spent nuclear fuel to Russia so it cannot be used for military purposes. [Associated Press, 4/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Israel

Iran announces that it will resume nuclear enrichment-related activities within a week following unsuccessful talks with European nations. In remarks that follow the announcement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran has the right to develop a nuclear energy program. “Anybody who comes to power through the presidential elections will not want, nor will the nation allow him to, take a step against the people’s interests,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ali Khamenei

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program

The foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany write to Hassan Rouhani, head of Iran’s Supreme Security Council, warning that they will end negotiations with the Iranian government if it resumes its nuclear energy program. The letter marks the first time European countries have threatened to sign on to the Bush administration’s hardline strategy in dealing with Iran. [Washington Post, 5/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Hassan Rouhani

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns the US that the Security Council would probably deadlock on any resolution to levy sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear energy program. The US and Britain have been urging that Iran be brought before the Security Council if it does not give up its program. In an interview with USA Today, Annan explains that both China and Russia, with their close ties to Iran, would certainly veto any proposal to impose sanctions. [USA Today, 5/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Kofi Annan, United Nations

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Iranian Shahab III missile on display.Iranian Shahab III missile on display. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]US intelligence officials meet with the leaders of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and reveal the contents of what they say is a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The laptop contains over a thousand pages of documents describing Iranian computer simulations and results of experimental results that the US officials say show a long-term Iranian effort to design a nuclear weapon (see Summer 2004). The documents do not prove that Iran has a nuclear weapon at this time, the Americans acknowledge, but say that the documents are powerful evidence that Iran, despite its denials, is actively developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop its Shahab III ballistic missile. That missile can reach Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. The briefing, which includes IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei, is a secret part of a US campaign to bring international pressure to bear on Iran. Some countries, such as Britain, France, and Germany, have known of the documents for over a year, and have been convinced of their accuracy. Other countries unaware of the documents are not so willing to go along with the US campaign. Foreign analysts, unable to peruse the documents for themselves because of the unwillingness of the US to provide the actual documents, have not been willing to conclude that the documents are real. One European diplomat says, “I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt.” However, IAEA analysts find the documents credible evidence of Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons. “They’ve worked problems that you don’t do unless you’re very serious,” says a European arms official. “This stuff is deadly serious.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Bush administration (43), Joseph Cirincione, Colin Powell, International Atomic Energy Agency, Gary Samore

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Iran marks the imminent ascension of hardline conservative Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the presidency (see August 3, 2005) by announcing that it is resuming its previously-suspended conversion of uranium into plutonium. [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmedinejad

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is readying a vote on whether to recommend that the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration, as part of its campaign to pressure the IAEA to vote for such a recommendation, briefs the president of Ghana, along with officials from Argentina, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Nigeria, all Security Council members, on its findings on Iran’s nuclear program derived from a laptop computer that contains evidence of Iran’s nuclear experiments (see Summer 2004). The briefing, actually a slide show, contains excerpts of the documents contained on the laptop. The US also presents a “white paper” containing summaries of the findings from the documents to another group of nations; the white paper contains no classified evidence and no mention of Iran’s purported attempts to develop a missile capable of deploying a nuclear weapon, but instead uses commercial satellite photos and economic analysis to argue that Iran has no need for nuclear power and has long hidden its nuclear ambitions. The white paper was prepared by analysts from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on behalf of the State Department. The paper does contain extensive details about some of Iran’s previously hidden nuclear sites. Most foreign officials are unimpressed. “Yeah, so what?” says one European expert who heard the briefing. “How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true given past experience?” Nevertheless, the presentation is effective; on September 24, the IAEA votes 22 to 1 to adopt a resolution against Iran, with 12 countries, including China and Russia, abstaining. The resolution cites Iran for “a long history of concealment and deception” and its repeated failure to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1970. The resolution says Iran may now be considered for sanctions by the Security Council. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, denounces the resolution as “illegal and illogical” and the result of a “planned scenario determined by the United States.” The IAEA will decide whether to send the recommendation to the Security Council in November. It is by no means certain that the Council will adopt the recommendation, as two countries rotating onto the Council, Cuba and Syria, are almost certain to refuse to bow to US pressure. And the IAEA itself is not wholly convinced of the accuracy of the documents, given the US’s refusal to allow the agency to examine the documents. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he is bound to “follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency, and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern.” In this case, ElBaradei says, “That has not happened.” [New York Times, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Mohamed ElBaradei, Manouchehr Mottaki, US Department of State

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

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

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

After winning a contentious election in July, former Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described by the BBC as an “ultra-conservative,” is confirmed as president of Iran. Ahmadinejad replaces moderate reformer Mohammad Khatami, who served as president for eight years. Ahmadinejad won the election in July, but only now becomes president after being formally endorsed by Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, hardline conservatives now control all the institutions of power in Iran. He is expected to lead a move to break off negotiations with European Union diplomats over constraining Iran’s nuclear development program (see January 2004), a move already heralded by Iran’s decision to resume converting uranium into plutonium (see Late July 2005). [BBC, 8/3/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251] Ahmadinejad tells the Iranian Parliament that while the nation will respect international norms regarding nuclear programs, it will never surrender to what he calls “illegal requests.” [Voice of America, 8/6/2005] Many believe that Khamenei is the driving force behind Ahmadinejad’s rise to power and the new sense of recalcitrant opposition to European diplomacy. [New York Times, 9/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Hundreds of women from 23 women’s organizations demonstrate outside the British Embassy in Tehran protesting Britain’s support of international efforts to deny Iran its right to have a civilian nuclear energy program. [United Press International, 10/3/2005]

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

In 2004, Undersecretary of State John Bolton privately informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is conducting research into the carefully timed detonations of conventional weapons needed to trigger a nuclear device. The tests, Bolton claimed, are being held at Parchin, a secret facility south of Tehran that hosts Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, and a site where large amounts of conventional weapons and chemical munitions and fuels are manufactured. Satellite imagery shows a bunker that might be suitable for such tests. IAEA inspectors are granted limited access to the site, and find no evidence of Bolton’s claims. “We found no evidence of nuclear materials,” a European diplomat associated with the IAEA will say in 2007. The underground explosive-testing pit, the diplomat will recall, “resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons” in the 1970s. While the bunker could be used for nuclear trigger testing, it could also serve other purposes, such as testing rocket fuel, which routinely takes place at Parchin. The diplomat will say, “The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium, and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it’s a very sophisticated process—it’s also known as hydrodynamic testing—and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I’d be very skeptical that Iran could do it.” In November 2006, Israel will claim that new satellite photos show further evidence of possible nuclear trigger testing. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, John R. Bolton

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Category Tags: Covert/Clandestine Operations, Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Conservative New York Times pundit David Brooks writes: “[D]espite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time—before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We’ll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: David Brooks

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

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

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The progressive Internet news site Washington Note writes a follow-up to the day’s revelation that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA agent caused heavy damage to the CIA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see February 13, 2006). The Note reports that, according to its source, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, included information about Iran’s nuclear program in the report from his 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002). Note reporter Steve Clemons says he cannot be sure of the accuracy of the claim, “so please take the following with a grain of salt until further sourced.” Clemons describes his source as “[s]omeone with knowledge of the classified report that Joe Wilson ‘orally’ filed after his now famed investigative trip to Niger.” Wilson allegedly included two notes in his debriefing that related to Iran and its possible activities in Niger. Clemons writes that “various intelligence sources” speculate that if Iran was indeed attempting to acquire Nigerien uranium, it would be to avoid “the international intelligence monitoring of Iran’s domestic mining operations.” Wilson, according to the source, may have reported that Iran, not Iraq, tried to acquire 400 to 500 tons of Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). Clemons writes that the notes from Wilson’s Niger debriefing have been destroyed, making it much harder to verify the claims. [Washington Note, 2/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Steve Clemons, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Geopolitics

Neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute says that “though George W. Bush, the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon really would prefer to do anything else,” it seems all but certain that the US will attack Iran to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian mullahs are driven more by ideology than anything else, Gerecht reasons, and even US attempts to bribe them into shelving Iran’s nuclear program—much less diplomatic and economic sanctions—will not be effective. Gerecht writes that what is most wrong with Iran and other Middle Eastern Muslim nations is their fascination with what he calls “toxic ideas… Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, and now increasingly Islamism, but never Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, or even the illiberal state-driven capitalisms of East Asia.” He predicts, “The Iranians won’t play ball.” But an American attack on Iran wouldn’t cause further problems in that increasingly chaotic region, Gerecht predicts, but will “actually accelerate internal debate” in a way that would be “painful for [Iran’s] ruling clergy.” As for imperiling the US mission in Iraq, Gerecht says dismissively that Iran “can’t really hurt us there.” [Weekly Standard, 4/24/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007] This is the latest of several calls by Gerecht to invade Iran (see February 18, 2002 and January 2005).

Entity Tags: Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, American Enterprise Institute, George W. Bush, Reuel Marc Gerecht, US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, Predictions, Neoconservative Hawks

William Kristol, the publisher and chief commentator for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, calls for a “military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.” He reasons: “Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions—and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]

Entity Tags: William Kristol

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Peter Hoekstra.Peter Hoekstra. [Source: Public domain]The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. [House Intelligence Committee, 8/23/2006]
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2006]
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006]
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” [Antiwar.com, 8/26/2007]
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006] Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” [Tom Paine (.com), 8/25/2006]

Entity Tags: John Prados, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, National Security Council, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jane Harman, Saddam Hussein, Rush Holt, Peter Hoekstra, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, David Albright, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Christian Westermann, International Atomic Energy Agency, Frederick Fleitz, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Intelligence Committee, Gary G. Sick, Donald Rumsfeld, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Diplomacy, Nuclear Program, US Policy Papers, Neoconservative Hawks

Mohamed ElBaradei.Mohamed ElBaradei. [Source: MSNBC]The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) responds to a recently released report by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 23, 2006). The IAEA terms the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and says that the report contains “erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements,” according to a letter from IAEA officials to Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the chairman of the committee who released the report before it could be voted on by the full committee. Among the numerous errors is the report’s assertion that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility. Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched to 90% or more to be effective; the Natanz facility is producing uranium enriched to only 3.5%. Intelligence officials point to at least a dozen claims in the report that are either flatly wrong or impossible to substantiate; one such error is the report’s claim that IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei removed a senior weapons inspector because of that inspector’s concerns over Iranian deception. In fact, that inspector is still working on the inspection process. The report also accuses ElBaradei of having an “unstated” policy preventing inspectors from telling the truth about Iran’s program; this allegation will provoke particular outrage from IAEA officials. [Washington Post, 9/14/2006]

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

According to journalist Seymour Hersh, during a discussion of national security in the Executive Office Building, someone asks what will happen if the Democrats win both the Senate and the House, and how will that change the White House’s policy towards Iran? According to someone familiar with the discussion, Vice President Cheney begins reminiscing about his days as a telephone lineman in Wyoming, and the policy towards unused lengths of copper wiring. Any leftover wire over three feet long was required to be returned to the power company. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted from such returns, so, Cheney recalls, he and his fellow workers would cut the longer lengths into shorter pieces and toss them aside—making the longer wire into “shorteners.” If the Democrats win, Cheney says, the White House will still pursue a course of using the US military to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. The White House will merely put “shorteners” on any legislative restrictions Congress may pass, and stop Congress from interfering in the White House’s drive to war. A former senior intelligence official says, “They’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, a la Nicaragua in the Contra war.” Cheney’s office says it has no record of the discussion. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

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

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: US MEK policy, Nuclear Program, Opposition Groups, Neoconservative Hawks

Iran is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear weapon before 2015, says the head of Germany’s intelligence service. Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) head Ernst Uhrlau tells a security conference, “It is difficult to give an exact estimate of the time,” but “[a]ccording to the current rate of enrichment, the Islamic Republic will not have sufficient amounts of highly enriched uranium with which to build atomic weapons before 2010. For a nuclear bomb we are looking at around 2015.” Uhrlau’s estimate echoes the findings of a recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see August 2, 2005). Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is strictly for the production of electricity. [Reuters, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Ernst Uhrlau, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

Joshua Muravchik.Joshua Muravchik. [Source: American Enterprise Institute]Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative with the American Enterprise Institute, writes in the magazine Foreign Policy that Bush must launch a military strike at Iran. “Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving office,” he writes. Bush will come under heavy criticism for such a strike, he notes, so Muravchik and his fellow neoconservatives “need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: American Enterprise Institute, Joshua Muravchik, George W. Bush, Foreign Policy Magazine

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has made further progress in its uranium enrichment research program. He says, “We know that some countries may not be pleased,” and although he insists Iran is abiding by international agreements, he adds, “Time is now completely on the side of the Iranian people.” In a recent meeting with a former senior administration official, Ahmadinejad questioned the US’s right to tell it that it could not enrich uranium. “Why doesn’t America stop enriching uranium?” he asked, and added, laughing, “We’ll enrich it for you and sell it to you at a fifty-per-cent discount.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006] The IAEA is skeptical of the claim (see Mid-November 2006), and experts have alternative explanations for the claim (see Mid-November, 2006).

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

The International Atomic Energy Agency is skeptical of the claim that Iran has made further progress in its uranium enrichment research program (see Mid-November, 2006). However, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiant tone does nothing to lessen US suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A European diplomat says: “There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran. But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren’t cheating to some degree. You don’t need a covert program to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s close to it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program

Responding to Iranian claims that it is progressing in its attempts to enrich uranium (see Mid-November, 2006) and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s skepticism of the claims (see Mid-November 2006), analysts and officials have alternative explanations. Whether peaceful or not, Iran’s nuclear program is a source of great national pride, and its popularity bolsters President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rather tenuous grip on power. A former US intelligence official says it is not inconceivable that Ahmadinejad would welcome a limited military strike against Iran by the US, especially if it does not destroy its nuclear program. Such an attack would shore up Iran’s position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the official says, referring to both the US debacle in Iraq and the resurgent popularity of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, after Israel’s 2006 strike at the group in Lebanon. Indeed, the former official says, a US attack on Iran could possibly serve as a rallying point to unite the divided Sunni and Shi’ite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West,” he says. “It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” A Pentagon consultant says the CIA does not believe that even a large-scale bombing attack will eradicate Iran’s nuclear program, and a limited campaign of subversion and sabotage plays into Iran’s hands, bolstering support for Iran’s theocratic leaders and “deepening anti-American Muslim rage.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Geopolitics, Nuclear Program, US Intel on 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

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran, Neoconservative Hawks

Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office.Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).

Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

In a press briefing, President Bush says of Iran, “As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we’ve convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that’s unacceptable behavior.” [White House, 1/26/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Program, Neoconservative Hawks

Ali Reza Asgari.Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, Ali-Reza Asgari, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary G. Sick, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Philip Giraldi

Category Tags: 2007 NIE on Iran, Nuclear Program, US Intel on Iran

The BBC reports that US plans for air strikes on Iran extend well beyond that country’s nuclear power plants and nuclear development sites, and include most of Iran’s military infrastructure. If ordered, US air strikes would target Iran’s air bases, naval bases, missile facilities, and command centers. The US insists it has no plans for any strikes against Iran, but evidence suggests otherwise (see September 2004). However, diplomatic sources say that US military planners have already selected their target sets inside Iran. The BBC claims that such a strike would be triggered by US confirmation that Iran is indeed building a nuclear weapon, which the US has asserted is the case but Iran denies. Another trigger could be if the US learns that Iran is behind any high-casualty attack on US forces inside Iraq. The US air strike plans include B2 stealth bombers delivering “bunker-buster” bombs on the nuclear facility at Natanz, which is deep underground. US officials insisted in January that they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents, but those reports were soon debunked by US military officials. [BBC, 2/20/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Nuclear Program

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