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POLITICS-IRAN: Tame US Intelligence Report Won’t Stop Sanctions

Analysis by Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN, Dec 17 2007 (IPS) - While a United States intelligence report stating that Iran has not pursued making a nuclear bomb since 2003 may blunt Washington’s warlike stance towards Tehran, it is far from being ‘Iran’s biggest victory of the century’, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described it.

The National Intelligence (NIE) report was the ‘’final blow on all ill-wishers of the Iranian nation,’’ the Iranian President told a crowd of local people in Ilam in western Iran on Dec. 5, two days after its release. “The report was meant to help the American administration but in essence it announced the victory of the Iranian nation in the nuclear matter against all the big powers,” he said.

Ahmadinejad’s rejoicing has since been echoed by his hard line supporters who said the publication of the report was a defeat for the neo-cons and a proof of Iran’s rightfulness.

Other hardliners and conservatives, not to mention reformists, are sceptical. While viewing the positive points in the report enthusiastically many of them criticised the President for being too hasty in welcoming the NIE as a huge victory.

Referring to the dividing line drawn between Iran’s nuclear activities before and after 2003 in the report, the hard line ‘Jomhuri Eslami’ newspaper warned that the division was a dangerous one for Iran. An editorial in the newspaper said the real aim of the was to build ”public opinion that continuation of pressure on Iran is a necessity and if pressure doesn’t continue Iran will once again move in the direction of building nuclear weapons’’ and added that it enabled U.S. administration to continue with its hostile policy towards Iran and proceed in the direction of a third anti-Iranian resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

Establishing arguments about Iran’s nuclear technology on the NIE report too boldly would mean accepting U.S. intelligence of the process of Iran’s nuclear technology development at least in the recent past seven years, the Tabnak news portal, close to Mohsen Reza’ei, secretary of powerful Expediency Council wrote. “In official reactions announced all these have unfortunately been ignored,” it said.

Ahmadinejad has himself toned down his initial stance and, at a press conference on Dec. 11, described the report as a step forward and positive. “If they take one or two other steps forward, the situation would be significantly different,” he said. ‘’The next step would be to put an end to the baseless allegations against Iranian nuclear programme,’’ he said, responding to a reporter’s question.

The report alleges that Iran had indeed pursued a nuclear weapons programme, but abandoned it in 2003. Referring to this and reiterating that Iran’s nuclear programme has always been peaceful, Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Dec. 8 that the report had revealed only 70 percent of the reality, while 30 percent of the facts remained undisclosed.

President George W. Bush, during a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the White House on Dec. 11 said: “We believe Iran had a secret military weapons programme, and Iran must explain to the world why they had a programme.” Bush also said Iran had an obligation to explain to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) why they hid their nuclear weapons programme from the U.N. watchdog.

Ahmadinejad’s idea that the release of the NIE report was a signal that normalisation of relations with the U.S. is possible has also drawn scepticism. “Our differences with the U.S. are in a series of strategic matters and won’t be resolved only through (sending) signals and tactical work,’’ former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying.

Larijani, who now sits on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative, had earlier called the NIE report a huge scandal for the U.S. administration. By publishing the report Washington intended to change its approach towards Iran, he opined.

“The NIE report said Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 which leaves the future aims of the Iranian nuclear plans open to conjecture. That’s exactly where the trap lies for the Iranians,” an analyst in Tehran told IPS.

”Admitting that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons programme now does indeed help the U.S. administration a lot by easing the pressure from the Israeli lobby and the hawks who have been pushing for immediate military action against Iran,” he said.

”Let’s not forget that (IAEA chief) El Baradei’s reports also are not conclusive and do not establish firmly that Iran’s nuclear programme is not aimed towards a weapons programme. Thus the report cannot really prevent new sanctions from coming,” he added

“The third round of sanctions, in discussion at the moment by the major power, are most likely to affect individuals connected with Iran’s nuclear programme, some Iranian banks and the military, i.e., if they are of a legal and financial nature. So again there is little chance the Chinese and the Russians, both of whom have close economic relations with Iran, will need too much convincing to go ahead with them,” he added.

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