Although the immediate official reaction to the release of the National Intelligence Estimate has been curiously positive, welcoming the assessment as a vindication of Iran (an “official confession” of the United States, in the words of government spokesman and justice minister Gholam-hossein Elham and “announcement of Iranian people’s victory on the nuclear issue” according to Ahmadinejad), there are signs that other important players are mulling over questions related to the timing and implications of the report. The report also seems to be feeding into the on going domestic debates about the Ahmadinejad administration’s handling of the nuclear file as well as regular political jockeying that is integral to the Iranian political landscape.
The first objection to seeing the report only in a positive light came in Tabnak, a website closely associate with the former head of Islamic Revolution’s Guard Corps, Mohsen Rezaie. A commentary called “The Other Side of the Coin of the NIE,” acknowledges the positive impact of the argument that Iran has not had a weapons program since 2003 but cautions about the negative aspect:
“If in our reasoning for the critique of U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran’s nuclear technology, we rely on this report in a one-sided and reckless manner, this means that we accept that the American spy agency [sic] has mastered , at least in the past seven years, its knowledge of the process of the expansion of Iran’s nuclear technology and negate the past statements of this agency which saw its hands tied in the Iran’s information and security arena and this, undoubtedly, can have very negative and unpleasant effects in the domestic developments of the country. All these things were unfortunately ignored in the official position announced on Tuesday.”
The commentary goes on the point out how the NIE effectively negates the IAEA’s long standing position that no evidence of diversion has ever been found in Iran and urges the government to approach the report with more caution and not affirm the “intelligence presence of the United States in Iran.”
In another commentary in Tabnak, the NIE’s assertion of a 2003 turnaround is discussed as a “big lie” and the point is made that no change occurred in the Iranian program in 2003. The real change, the piece argues, came in 1998-9 when there was a change of leadership at Iran’s Nuclear Energy Organization and when under this new leadership “various and dispersed activities …became focused in activities related to the fuel cycle.”
Another set of cautions came in a television interview with Ali Larijani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator who was recently relieved of his job by Ahmadinejad. Pointing out that the NIE was released at Bush’s behest, he posits the report as part and parcel of American domestic politics, pointing to the need to create credibility after the Iraq intelligence fiasco. The need to make the case that at every step, depending on the information available, the right decision is made in the US, is offered as the second reason for the release of the report while the creation of a “breathing space” and need for a push back of the “Zionist lobby’s intense war mongering” is posited as the third reason.
Finally, Larijani points out that in the NIE there are elements in line with the 5+1 position that pressure works on Iran. This leads him to say, “On this basis it can be interpreted that by the release of the report the U.S. intends to change phase in its stance regarding Iran…. ElBaradei’s recent report and clearing of most of the ambiguities placated the United States. With this report, Washington intends to affirm ElBaradei’s report and say that like ElBaradei we think Iran does not have a nuclear weapon but believe it can move in that direction in the future.”
Also, in an implicit dig against Iran’s current chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who has reportedly not been very cooperative in his meeting last week with Javier Solana, Europe’s foreign policy chief, Larijani identifies Iran, Solana, ,and ElBaradei as a triangle and sees Iran in need of cooperation with the IAEA as well as continued dialogue with Solana. Cautioning against presenting the discussions with Solana as unimportant, Larijani analogizes the situation to a “container of milk that the United States would like to overturn.”
Along the same lines, the former deputy foreign minister, Abbas Maleki, writing in Etemad-e Melli daily, acknowledges the domestic consumption of the NIE and its importance in undercutting the rush to war. He also points to the seeming confusion that plagues current US foreign policy is the Middle East. Still he states what while “American power may be in decline,” underestimating American diplomatic prowess is a mistake.
Finally, speaking to students at Ferdowsi University in Mashad, Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s former foreign minister and current advisor to the supreme leader, also cautions against seeing the report as positive. “We should not be too content with these types of reports. These reports, for or against Iran, have no impact on Iran’s diplomatic behavior… Of course we should see it as a good omen that our peaceful nuclear program has been vindicated and we should know that this report, like ElBaradei’s report, contains positive and negative points, hence value it on the basis of its capacity… These types of reports should be approached with doubt since more than wanting to give Iran its due; they are pursuing their own electoral interests.”
Clearly, important players of Iranian politics are more reluctant to declare the report as a victory for Iran than Ahmadinejad who has a political stake in taking credit for Iran’s aggressive policies paying off and implicitly connecting his policies to the turnaround of the American intelligence community.