Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Despite Evidence, CIA Director Says Iran Still Pursuing Nuclear Weapon

Despite evidence available to him from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, not to mention international experts, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Sunday that he believes Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," he was asked whether he thought Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Hayden’s response was, "Yes," and added that his assessment was not based on "court-of-law stuff. . . . This is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence."

According to a Los Angeles Times article:

“He said his conviction stemmed largely from Iran's willingness to endure international sanctions rather than comply with demands for nuclear inspections and abandon its efforts to develop technologies that can produce fissile material.

“’Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they're doing now if they did not have, at a minimum . . . the desire to keep the option open to develop a nuclear weapon and, perhaps even more so, that they've already decided to do that?’ he said.”

Apparently Hayden’s “body of evidence” doesn’t include any of Iran’s history, otherwise he would know that Iranians will not back down from threats, even at the price of sanctions and isolation. As Professor Ruhi Ramazani argues, psychological and political factors are more important. In his eloquent op-ed, “Sanctions on Iran: Will they work?,” which I have referred to repeatedly, Professor Ramazani writes: “Historically, Iranian national sentiment soars in the face of foreign pressure…In reaction to foreign coercion, the Iranian sense of national unity overcomes factional strife. It is a transcendental force inspired by a powerful belief of the Iranian people that their national identity is rooted in the continuity and resilience of their culture and civilization despite over two millennia of foreign pressures and invasions, from Alexander of Macedonia to Saddam of Iraq.”

I have made this comparison before, but I believe there are a number of similarities between Iran's experience to nationalize its oil and the current standoff over the nuclear program. In the struggle to nationalize oil, Britain conducted a vigorous sanctions campaign and moved carriers into the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran. But there were those in Britain, like Earl Mountbatten who "told his superiors in the Admirality that instead of listening to the 'notoriously bellicose' Herbert Morrison's advice on how to 'cow these insolent natives,' Britain should realize 'economic and military threats could only make things worse.'"

I firmly believe Iran’s nuclear program has everything to do with pride and prestige. For Iran, the nuclear issue also has everything to do with the country’s sense of justice and victimization. The issue of prestige was even raised in the most recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, “…opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might — if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” But Hayden’s “body of evidence” probably doesn’t include that finding either.

I believe Iran wants to be like a Japan, which has its own indigenous fuel cycle capability and enough nuclear material to produce about 2,000 nuclear weapons if it ever made the political decision to do so. While there are certainly hardliners in Iran who would like to see a nuclear weapons program, the regime is not stupid. They know that if they develop a nuclear weapon, it will immediately trigger regional proliferation and Iran will lose its conventional military superiority.

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