Former chairperson of the US National Intelligence Council, Thomas Fingar, received the 2013 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence on January 23 for his role overseeing the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran.
The NIE report’s finding that Iran had no active nuclear weapons program gave lie to years of US-Israeli anti-Iran rhetoric, and has been credited with preventing a pre-emptive war against Iran.
US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks show that the NIE also hampered Western efforts to pass a fourth United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution against Iran.
In 2006, the US had succeeded in persuading the UNSC to pass a resolution which characterised Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to “international peace and security”. The resolution required Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and paved the way for future sanctions when Iran refused to comply.
Then director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, described this resolution as “a misuse of the council’s authority” because peaceful uranium enrichment is a legal right accorded to members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA had found no evidence in Iran of diversion for military purposes.
Iran was clearly being singled out, not for any threat posed by its nuclear program but for its threat to Western hegemony in the Middle East.
Publication of the NIE’s key findings in December 2007 threatened to divide the support needed to pass another UNSC resolution.
A January 28 cable from the US Embassy in Paris said that French strategic affairs adviser, Philippe Errera, “noted that the timing of the release of the NIE was especially bad, with EU Political Directors having been poised for a new UNSC resolution just before the NIE release”.
Errera suggested the US should have postponed the NIE’s release or changed the report’s “characterization of Iran's enrichment activities as exclusively civil”.
As well as increasing the pressure on Iran’s economy, the US and the “EU-3” (France, Germany, UK) wanted to pass another resolution to keep up the appearance of a united front in the aftermath of the NIE.
A December 6 cable from the US Embassy in Berlin reported that Germany had "'ignored the broken china’ from the NIE release and came out ‘immediately, in full support’ of a third UNSCR”.
The Deputy Director General for Foreign Economic Policy at Germany’s Economics Ministry, Michael Kruse, stressed that “a strong, robust resolution is essential to send a strong signal from the international community”.
French officials argued that a quick, albeit weak, UNSC resolution was needed to counter the potential effects of the NIE. Francios Richier, strategic affairs adviser to President Sarkozy, told the US, “the international community's most effective mechanism has been creating a financially difficult operating environment for Iran. If the perception declines in the financial community that investment in Iran is dangerous, this will change”.
However, the NIE raised the opposition to another round of UNSC sanctions against Iran from some states, particularly South Africa, Indonesia and Libya, who were non-permanent UNSC council members at the time.
The US used every opportunity to put forth its interpretation of the NIE: Iran was still working towards a nuclear bomb and needed to be stopped.
China, however, said the NIE had “changed the situation”. A December 6 cable from the US Embassy in Beijing reported China’s assistant foreign minister as saying that “the general view of the international community is that the [NIE] report casts doubt on the need for an additional UNSC resolution”.
The cable reports that the US ambassador responded that it was "'just as important as ever’ to continue down the current path. A key finding of the NIE, he stressed, is that Iran had a nuclear weapons program before 2003; the most difficult part of developing a nuclear weapon, the collection of sufficient fissile material, is continuing and the rest of the program could be restarted in a relatively short time.”
A February 29 cable reported that in a meeting with German foreign minister Frank-Walker Steinmeier, Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda, “pointed to the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate as documenting that Iran had halted its weapons development program”, which Wirajuda believed, “diminished the need for another resolution”.
The cable reports that Steinmeier countered that “Iran's current enrichment activities--in contrast to past weapons programs--were the primary reason for a new UNSC resolution”.
By this line of argument, Iran’s failure to comply with unjust UNSC resolutions requiring it to suspend uranium enrichment provides the justification for further sanctions.
Iran is to be punished for having a nuclear program which could theoretically be used to produce nuclear weapons, even though this is a right accorded to it by the NPT, and it is subject to rigorous IAEA surveillance and inspections to ensure that the program is not used for military purposes.
Many countries have civilian nuclear programs and several, including Japan, Germany and Italy, have “breakout” nuclear weapons capacity. That is, they have the technology and the infrastructure in place to build nuclear weapons quickly if they chose to do so.
These countries have not been subject to sanctions and threats of war, in contrast to Iran which does not have breakout capacity, nor have Israel, India and Pakistan which have all developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT.
Moreover, the Iranian people are to be the casualties in an economic war waged against Iran which has dramatically increased the price of basic goods, created unemployment and poverty, and led to a shortage of essential medical supplies.
UNSC resolution 1803 was finally adopted on March 3, 2008.
It contained few mandatory but several voluntary measures, such as calling on states to voluntarily limit their interaction with Iranian banks operating in their territories.
A February 14 cable reported that German Deputy National Security Advisor, Rolf Nikel, said “[w]hile more could have been included ‘we had to see the reality and importance of maintaining unity, especially after the NIE’”.
The NIE also complicated EU-3 plans to invoke EU sanctions and other unilateral measures against Iran. Within three days of the NIE’s release, Dutch officials complained that it had "made EU action more difficult”. They noted that “Parliament was already asking the Foreign Minister to justify this position in light of the apparently diminished Iranian threat”.
In January 2008, EU Council Secretariat Director General for External and Politico-Military Affairs Robert Cooper insisted that the EU “was not thrown off by the National Intelligence Estimate” but wanted to wait for the “backing” provided by another UNSC resolution.
The US was at this time also seeking to persuade countries to limit dealings with beyond the level required by sanctions. So-called “moral suasion” is the extra-legal means by which governments attempt to influence the private sector.
It had been used particularly by the German government to try to limit business with Iran. The German government’s success depended on its ability to persuade German companies that they could find themselves inadvertently financing WMD proliferation if they dealt with Iranian entities.
This was a much more difficult task following the NIE.
A cable sent from the US Embassy in Berlin on the day following the publication of the NIE’s key findings reported that German National Security Advisor, Christoph Heusgen, told the US he was concerned “about the timing of the information and potential political fallout, particularly in light of Chancellor Merkel's efforts to use moral suasion to convince German companies to end investment in Iran”.
A cable from the same embassy sent three months after the NIE’s release reported that: “German export control officials and banking regulators express concern that small- and medium-size exporters perceive sanctions, as well as the Government's moral suasion efforts, as arbitrary, politically motivated measures aimed at regime change, rather than as tools to prevent proliferation.”
A December 10 cable detailed discussions between the US and Britain about ways the British government could unilaterally shut down Iranian banks operating in Britain.
A representative from the British Cabinet Office official told the US there was “no lack of [British] political will to finding imaginative ways forward, only legal constraints”. The cable said: “The U.S. will need to continue to press the UK to be creative in finding ways to take domestic action against [Iranian] banks that they agree are complicit in nefarious activity.”
It added, “we will need to work hard to convince some of the UK's skeptical EU (and UN) partners of the continued threat after the release of the NIE”.
[This is the second of a three part series on WikiLeak's revelations on the war drive against Iran and the NIE's impact on it. read the first part here.]