Putin: Proof Lacking on Iran's Nuke program / Sy Hersh on Iran - New Yorker

10/10/2007

Putin: no proof Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons

Guardian Unlimited

October 10, 2007

 

There is no proof Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said today.

 

But he said Tehran should make its atomic activity "as transparent as possible".

 

"We do not have data that says Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. We do not have such objective data," Mr Putin told a news conference in Paris after talks with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

 

"Therefore we proceed from a position that Iran has no such plans, but we share the concern of our partners that all programmes should be as transparent as possible."

 

Echoing Mr Putin, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said hasty action would be irresponsible.

 

"Until the IAEA reports on what is going on in Iran, until we receive these answers, it would be irresponsible to make any sharp movements," Mr Lavrov was quoted by the RIA new agency as saying.

 

Russia's comments came as the US pushed for a third round of sanctions against Iran, which has defied the international community by refusing to halt uranium enrichment.

 

Mr Putin will make his first visit to Iran early next week for a summit of Caspian Sea countries that will include talks with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

 

Mr Sarkozy said the trip could encourage Iran to be more cooperative.

 

"After the trip, there could be a will to cooperate - that is essential," he said.

 

But Russia has opposed the push for tougher sanctions against Iran, calling for more inspections of Iranian facilities by the IAEA.

 

"We have worked cooperatively with our partners at the UN security council,
and we intend to continue such cooperative work in the future," said Mr Putin.

 

Iran and a delegation from the IAEA are holding more talks this week about Tehran's uranium enrichment programme.

 

The IAEA is seeking details on how Iran obtained components for its P1-type centrifuges, of which more than 2,000 are operating at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, and on its research with the more efficient P2 model.

 

The new talks come after an agreement reached in August for Tehran to answer outstanding questions about its nuclear programme, including plutonium experiments.

 

Much of the west, led by the US, accuses Tehran of working secretly to obtain nuclear weapons.

 

Iran strongly denies this, saying it is trying to achieve nuclear power to generate electricity, and that it has the right to do so.

 

The UN has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, a process that creates nuclear fuel but can also make the core of an atomic bomb.

 

The IAEA and the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, are due to report to the UN security council next month on Iran's willingness to give up enrichment in exchange for political and trade benefits.

 

As the IAEA and Iran hold their latest talks, there is continuing speculation about a possible US military strike.

 

The New Yorker magazine this week reported that the White House, pushed by the vice-president, Dick Cheney, requested that the joint chiefs of staff redraw plans for a possible attack on Iran, with an emphasis on "surgical strikes" against Revolutionary Guard facilities that are the alleged source of attacks on US troops in Iraq.

 

______________________

 



The Administration’s Plan for Iran
By: Seymour M. Hersh

The New Yorker

October 8, 2007

 

In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his
Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic
battle between the United States and Iran. “Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are
training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people,” Bush told
the national convention of the American Legion in August. “The attacks on our bases and
our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased. . . . The Iranian regime
must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect
our troops.” He then concluded, to applause, “I have authorized our military commanders
in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

 

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq
are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians
— have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the
office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw
long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and
government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with
targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and
infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard
Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been
the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a
counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

 

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his
senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public
that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before
the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major
bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms,
in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that
Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been
a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging
as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.

 

During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian
targets across the border and that the British “were on board.” At that point,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice interjected that there was a need to proceed
carefully, because of the ongoing diplomatic track. Bush ended by instructing Crocker
to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution.

 

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior
intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out,
the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action
to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton
did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad
to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate
effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile,
the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be
defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t
give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”

 

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “The President has made it clear that the
United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution with respect to Iran.
The State Department is working diligently along with the international community to
address our broad range of concerns.” (The White House declined to comment.)

 

I was repeatedly cautioned, in interviews, that the President has yet to issue the
“execute order” that would be required for a military operation inside Iran, and
such an order may never be issued. But there has been a significant increase in
the tempo of attack planning. In mid-August, senior officials told reporters
that the Administration intended to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
a foreign terrorist organization. And two former senior officials of the C.I.A.
told me that, by late summer, the agency had increased the size and the
authority of the Iranian Operations Group. (A spokesman for the agency said,
“The C.I.A. does not, as a rule, publicly discuss the relative size of its
operational components.”)

 

“They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk,” one recently retired C.I.A. official
said. “They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s
just like the fall of 2002”—the months before the invasion of Iraq, when the
Iraqi Operations Group became the most important in the agency. He added,
“The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with
Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react,
and the Administration has not thought it all the way through.”

 

That theme was echoed
by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser, who said
that he had heard discussions of the White House’s more limited bombing
plans for Iran. Brzezinski said that Iran would likely react to an
American attack “by intensifying the conflict in Iraq and also in
Afghanistan, their neighbors, and that could draw in Pakistan. We will
be stuck in a regional war for twenty years.”

 

In a speech at the United Nations last week, Iran’s President, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, was defiant. He referred to America as an “aggressor” state,
and said, “How can the incompetents who cannot even manage and control themselves
rule humanity and arrange its affairs? Unfortunately, they have put
themselves in the position of God.” (The day before, at Columbia, he suggested
that the facts of the Holocaust still needed to be determined.)

 

“A lot depends on how stupid the Iranians will be,” Brzezinski told me.
“Will they cool off Ahmadinejad and tone down their language?” The Bush
Administration, by charging that Iran was interfering in Iraq, was aiming
“to paint it as ‘We’re responding to what is an intolerable situation,’
”Brzezinski said. “This time, unlike the attack in Iraq, we’re going to play the
victim. The name of our game seems to be to get the Iranians to overplay their hand.”

 

General David
Petraeus, the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, in his report to
Congress in September, buttressed the Administration’s case against Iran.
“None of us, earlier this year, appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in
Iraq, something about which we and Iraq’s leaders all now have greater concern,”
he said. Iran, Petraeus said, was fighting “a proxy war against the Iraqi state
and coalition forces in Iraq.”

 

Iran has had a presence in Iraq for decades; the extent and the purpose of its
current activities there are in dispute, however. During Saddam Hussein’s rule,
when the Sunni-dominated Baath Party brutally oppressed the majority Shiites, Iran
supported them.

 

Many in the present Iraqi Shiite leadership, including prominent members
of the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, spent years in exile in
Iran; last week, at the Council on Foreign Relations, Maliki said, according
to the Washington Post, that Iraq’s relations with the Iranians had
“improved to the point that they are not interfering in our internal
affairs.” Iran is so entrenched in Iraqi Shiite circles that any “proxy
war” could be as much through the Iraqi state as against it. The crux
of the Bush Administration’s strategic dilemma is that its decision to
back a Shiite-led government after the fall of Saddam has empowered
Iran, and made it impossible to exclude Iran from the Iraqi political
scene.

 

Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, who
is an expert on Iran and Shiism, told me, “Between 2003 and 2006, the
Iranians thought they were closest to the United States on the issue of
Iraq.” The Iraqi Shia religious leadership encouraged Shiites to avoid
confrontation with American soldiers and to participate in elections—
believing that a one-man, one-vote election process could only result in
a Shia-dominated government. Initially, the insurgency was mainly Sunni,
especially Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Nasr told me that Iran’s policy since
2003 has been to provide funding, arms, and aid to several Shiite factions—
including some in Maliki’s coalition. The problem, Nasr said, is that “once
you put the arms on the ground you cannot control how they’re used later.”

 

In the Shiite view, the White House “only looks at Iran’s ties to Iraq in terms
of security,” Nasr said. “Last year, over one million Iranians traveled
to Iraq on pilgrimages, and there is more than a billion dollars a year
in trading between the two countries. But the Americans act as if every
Iranian inside Iraq were there to import weapons.”

Many of those who support the President’s policy argue that Iran poses an
imminent threat.

 

In a recent essay in Commentary, Norman Podhoretz depicted President
Ahmadinejad as a revolutionary, “like Hitler . . . whose objective is to
overturn the going international system and to replace it . . . with a new order
dominated by Iran. . . . [T]he plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be
prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the
actual use of military force.” Podhoretz concluded, “I pray with all my heart”
that President Bush “will find it possible to take the only action that can stop
Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward
Israel.” Podhoretz recently told politico.com that he had met with the President
for about forty-five minutes to urge him to take military action against Iran,
and believed that “Bush is going to hit” Iran before leaving office.
(Podhoretz, one of the founders of neoconservatism, is a strong backer
of Rudolph Giuliani’s Presidential campaign, and his son-in-law,
Elliott Abrams, is a senior adviser to President Bush on national
security.)

 

In early August, Army Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the
second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Times about an increase
in attacks involving explosively formed penetrators, a type of lethal bomb
that discharges a semi-molten copper slug that can rip through the armor of
Humvees. The Times reported that U.S. intelligence and technical analyses
indicated that Shiite militias had obtained the bombs from Iran. Odierno said
that Iranians had been “surging support” over the past three or four months.

 

Questions remain,
however, about the provenance of weapons in Iraq, especially given the
rampant black market in arms. David Kay, a former C.I.A. adviser and
the chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations, told me
that his inspection team was astonished, in the aftermath of both Iraq
wars, by “the huge amounts of arms” it found circulating among civilians
and military personnel throughout the country. He recalled seeing stockpiles
of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered
from unexploded American cluster bombs. Arms had also been supplied years ago
by the Iranians to their Shiite allies in southern Iraq who had been persecuted
by the Baath Party.

 

“I thought Petraeus went way beyond what Iran is doing inside Iraq today,”
Kay said. “When the White House started its anti-Iran campaign, six months ago,
I thought it was all craziness. Now it does look like there is some
selective smuggling by Iran, but much of it has been in response to
American pressure and American threats—more a ‘shot across the bow’ sort
of thing, to let Washington know that it was not going to get away with
its threats so freely. Iran is not giving the Iraqis the good stuff
—the anti-aircraft missiles that can shoot down American planes
and its advanced anti-tank weapons.”

 

Another element of the Administration’s case against Iran is the presence of
Iranian agents in Iraq. General Petraeus, testifying before Congress, said that
a commando faction of the Revolutionary Guards was seeking to turn its
allies inside Iraq into a “Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests.”
In August, Army Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of the 3rd Infantry
Division, told reporters in Baghdad that his troops were tracking some
fifty Iranian men sent by the Revolutionary Guards who were training Shiite
insurgents south of Baghdad. “We know they’re here and we target them as well,”
he said.

 

Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, told me that “there are a lot of Iranians at any time inside Iraq,
including those doing intelligence work and those doing humanitarian missions.
It would be prudent for the Administration to produce more evidence of
direct military training—or produce fighters captured in Iraq who had
been trained in Iran.” He added, “It will be important for the Iraqi
government to be able to state that they were unaware of this
activity”; otherwise, given the intense relationship between the Iraqi
Shiite leadership and Tehran, the Iranians could say that “they had
been asked by the Iraqi government to train these people.” (In late
August, American troops raided a Baghdad hotel and arrested a group of
Iranians. They were a delegation from Iran’s energy ministry, and had
been invited to Iraq by the Maliki government; they were later released.)

 

“If you want to attack, you have to prepare the groundwork, and you have
to be prepared to show the evidence,” Clawson said. Adding to the complexity,
he said, is a question that seems almost counterintuitive: “What is the
attitude of Iraq going to be if we hit Iran? Such an attack could put a strain
on the Iraqi government.”

 

A senior European diplomat, who works closely with American intelligence,
told me that there is evidence that Iran has been making extensive preparation
for an American bombing attack. “We know that the Iranians are
strengthening their air-defense capabilities,” he said, “and we believe
they will react asymmetrically—hitting targets in Europe and in Latin
America.” There is also specific intelligence suggesting that Iran will
be aided in these attacks by Hezbollah. “Hezbollah is capable, and they
can do it,” the diplomat said.

 

In interviews with current and former officials, there were repeated complaints
about the paucity of reliable information. A former high-level C.I.A. official
said that the intelligence about who is doing what inside Iran “is so thin
that nobody even wants his name on it. This is the problem.”

 

The difficulty of
determining who is responsible for the chaos in Iraq can be seen in Basra,
in the Shiite south, where British forces had earlier presided over
a relatively secure area. Over the course of this year, however,
the region became increasingly ungovernable, and by fall the British
had retreated to fixed bases. A European official who has access to
current intelligence told me that “there is a firm belief inside the
American and U.K. intelligence community that Iran is supporting many
of the groups in southern Iraq that are responsible for the deaths of
British and American soldiers. Weapons and money are getting in from
Iran. They have been able to penetrate many groups”—primarily the Mahdi
Army and other Shiite militias.

 

A June, 2007, report by the International Crisis Group found, however,
that Basra’s renewed instability was mainly the result of “the systematic
abuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas,
neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the
rise of criminal mafias.” The report added that leading Iraqi politicians
and officials “routinely invoke the threat of outside interference”—from
bordering Iran—“to justify their behavior or evade responsibility for
their failures.”

 

Earlier this year, before the surge in U.S. troops, the American command in
Baghdad changed what had been a confrontational policy in western Iraq, the
Sunni heartland (and the base of the Baathist regime), and began
working with the Sunni tribes, including some tied to the insurgency.
Tribal leaders are now getting combat support as well as money,
intelligence, and arms, ostensibly to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Empowering Sunni forces may undermine efforts toward national
reconciliation, however. Already, tens of thousands of Shiites have
fled Anbar Province, many to Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, while
Sunnis have been forced from their homes in Shiite communities. Vali
Nasr, of Tufts, called the internal displacement of communities in Iraq
a form of “ethnic cleansing.”

 

“The American policy of supporting the Sunnis in western Iraq is making
the Shia leadership very nervous,” Nasr said. “The White House makes it
seem as if the Shia were afraid only of Al Qaeda—but they are afraid of
the Sunni tribesmen we are arming.

 

The Shia attitude is ‘So what if you’re getting rid of Al Qaeda?’ The problem
of Sunni resistance is still there. The Americans believe they can distinguish
between good and bad insurgents, but the Shia don’t share that distinction.
For the Shia, they are all one adversary.”

 

Nasr went on, “The United States is trying to fight on all sides—Sunni and
Shia—and be friends with all sides.” In the Shiite view, “It’s clear that the
United States cannot bring security to Iraq, because it is not doing
everything necessary to bring stability. If they did, they would talk
to anybody to achieve it—even Iran and Syria,” Nasr said. (Such
engagement was a major recommendation of the Iraq Study Group.)
“America cannot bring stability in Iraq by fighting Iran in Iraq.”

 

The revised bombing plan for a possible attack, with its tightened focus on
counterterrorism, is gathering support among generals and admirals in
the Pentagon. The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise
missiles and more precisely targeted ground attacks and bombing
strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary
Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities.

 

“Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes,” the
former senior American intelligence official told me. The Joint Chiefs have
turned to the Navy, he said, which had been chafing over its role in the Air
Force-dominated air war in Iraq. “The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise
missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got
everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran
have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in
the Gulf.” There are also plans to hit Iran’s anti-aircraft
surface-to-air missile sites. “We’ve got to get a path in and a path
out,” the former official said.

 

A Pentagon consultant on counterterrorism told me that, if the bombing
campaign took place, it would be accompanied by a series of what he called
“short, sharp incursions” by American Special Forces units into suspected
Iranian training sites. He said, “Cheney is devoted to this, no question.”

 

A limited bombing attack of this sort “only makes sense if the intelligence
is good,” the consultant said. If the targets are not clearly defined, the
bombing “will start as limited, but then there will be an ‘escalation special.’
Planners will say that we have to deal with Hezbollah here and Syria
there. The goal will be to hit the cue ball one time and have all the
balls go in the pocket. But add-ons are always there in strike
planning.”

 

The surgical-strike plan has been shared with some of America’s allies,
who have had mixed reactions to it. Israel’s military and political
leaders were alarmed, believing, the consultant said, that it didn’t
sufficiently target Iran’s nuclear facilities. The White House has been
reassuring the Israeli government, the former senior official told me, that
the more limited target list would still serve the goal of counter-proliferation
by decapitating the leadership of the Revolutionary Guards, who are
believed to have direct control over the nuclear-research program. “Our
theory is that if we do the attacks as planned it will accomplish two
things,” the former senior official said.

 

An Israeli official said, “Our main focus has been the Iranian nuclear
facilities, not because other things aren’t important. We’ve worked on
missile technology and terrorism, but we see the Iranian nuclear issue as
one that cuts across everything.” Iran, he added, does not need to develop
an actual warhead to be a threat. “Our problems begin when they learn
and master the nuclear fuel cycle and when they have the nuclear
materials,” he said. There was, for example, the possibility of a
“dirty bomb,” or of Iran’s passing materials to terrorist groups.
“There is still time for diplomacy to have an impact, but not a lot,”
the Israeli official said. “We believe the technological timetable is
moving faster than the diplomatic timetable. And if diplomacy doesn’t
work, as they say, all options are on the table.”

 

The bombing plan has had its most positive reception from the newly
elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. A senior
European official told me, “The British perception is that the Iranians
are not making the progress they want to see in their nuclear-enrichment
processing. All the intelligence community agree that Iran is providing
critical assistance, training, and technology to a surprising number of
terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, through Hezbollah, in
Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine, too.”

 

There were four possible responses to this Iranian activity, the European
official said: to do nothing (“There would be no retaliation to the Iranians
for their attacks; this would be sending the wrong signal”); to publicize
the Iranian actions (“There is one great difficulty with this
option—the widespread lack of faith in American intelligence
assessments”); to attack the Iranians operating inside Iraq (“We’ve
been taking action since last December, and it does have an effect”);
or, finally, to attack inside Iran.

 

The European official continued, “A major air strike against Iran could
well lead to a rallying around the flag there, but a very careful targeting
of terrorist training camps might not.” His view, he said, was that “once
the Iranians get a bloody nose they rethink things.” For example, Ali
Akbar Rafsanjani and Ali Larijani, two of Iran’s most influential
political figures, “might go to the Supreme Leader and say, ‘The
hard-line policies have got us into this mess. We must change our
approach for the sake of the regime.’ ”

 

A retired American four-star general with close ties to the British military
told me that there was another reason for Britain’s interest—shame over the
failure of the Royal Navy to protect the sailors and Royal Marines who were
seized by Iran on March 23rd, in the Persian Gulf. “The professional
guys are saying that British honor is at stake, and if there’s another
event like that in the water off Iran the British will hit back,” he
said.

 

The revised bombing plan “could work—if it’s in response to an Iranian attack,”
the retired four-star general said. “The British may want to do it to get even,
but the more reasonable people are saying, ‘Let’s do it if the Iranians
stage a cross-border attack inside Iraq.’ It’s got to be ten dead
American soldiers and four burned trucks.” There is, he added, “a
widespread belief in London that Tony Blair’s government was sold a
bill of goods by the White House in the buildup to the war against
Iraq. So if somebody comes into Gordon Brown’s office and says, ‘We
have this intelligence from America,’ Brown will ask, ‘Where did it
come from? Have we verified it?’ The burden of proof is high.”

 

The French government shares the Administration’s sense of urgency about
Iran’s nuclear program, and believes that Iran will be able to produce a
warhead within two years. France’s newly elected President, Nicolas Sarkozy,
created a stir in late August when he warned that Iran could be
attacked if it did not halt its nuclear program. Nonetheless, France
has indicated to the White House that it has doubts about a limited
strike, the former senior intelligence official told me. Many in the
French government have concluded that the Bush Administration has
exaggerated the extent of Iranian meddling inside Iraq; they believe,
according to a European diplomat, that “the American problems in Iraq
are due to their own mistakes, and now the Americans are trying to show
some teeth. An American bombing will show only that the Bush
Administration has its own agenda toward Iran.”

 

A European intelligence official made a similar point. “If you attack Iran,”
he told me, “and do not label it as being against Iran’s nuclear
facilities, it will strengthen the regime, and help to make the Islamic
air in the Middle East thicker.”

 

Ahmadinejad, in his speech at the United Nations, said that Iran considered
the dispute over its nuclear program “closed.” Iran would deal with it only
through the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said, and had decided to
“disregard unlawful and political impositions of the arrogant powers.”
He added, in a press conference after the speech, “the decisions of the
United States and France are not important.”

 

The director general of the I.A.E.A., Mohamed ElBaradei, has for years
been in an often bitter public dispute with the Bush Administration; the
agency’s most recent report found that Iran was far less proficient in enriching
uranium than expected. A diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is
based, said, “The Iranians are years away from making a bomb, as
ElBaradei has said all along. Running three thousand centrifuges does
not make a bomb.” The diplomat added, referring to hawks in the Bush
Administration, “They don’t like ElBaradei, because they are in a state
of denial. And now their negotiating policy has failed, and Iran is
still enriching uranium and still making progress.”

 

The diplomat expressed the bitterness that has marked the I.A.E.A.’s dealings
with the Bush Administration since the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“The White House’s claims were all a pack of lies, and Mohamed is
dismissive of those lies,” the diplomat said.

 

Hans Blix, a former head of the I.A.E.A., questioned the Bush Administration’s
commitment to diplomacy. “There are important cards that Washington could play;
instead, they have three aircraft carriers sitting in the Persian
Gulf,” he said. Speaking of Iran’s role in Iraq, Blix added, “My
impression is that the United States has been trying to push up the
accusations against Iran as a basis for a possible attack—as an excuse
for jumping on them.”

 

The Iranian leadership is feeling the pressure. In the press conference
after his U.N. speech, Ahmadinejad was asked about a possible attack.
“They want to hurt us,” he said, “but, with the will of God, they won’t
be able to do it.” According to a former State Department adviser on Iran,
the Iranians complained, in diplomatic meetings in Baghdad with Ambassador
Crocker, about a refusal by the Bush Administration to take advantage
of their knowledge of the Iraqi political scene. The former adviser
said, “They’ve been trying to convey to the United States that ‘We can
help you in Iraq. Nobody knows Iraq better than us.’ ” Instead, the
Iranians are preparing for an American attack.

 

The adviser said that he had heard from a source in Iran that the Revolutionary
Guards have been telling religious leaders that they can stand up to an American
attack. “The Guards are claiming that they can infiltrate American security,”
the adviser said. “They are bragging that they have spray-painted an
American warship—to signal the Americans that they can get close to them.”
(I was told by the former senior intelligence official that there was an
unexplained incident, this spring, in which an American warship was
spray-painted with a bull’s-eye while docked in Qatar, which may have been
the source of the boasts.)

 

“Do you think those crazies in Tehran are going to say, ‘Uncle Sam is here!
We’d better stand down’? ” the former senior intelligence official said.
“The reality is an attack will make things ten times warmer.”

 

Another recent incident, in Afghanistan, reflects the tension over intelligence.
In July, the London Telegraph reported that what appeared to be an SA-7
shoulder-launched missile was fired at an American C-130 Hercules
aircraft. The missile missed its mark. Months earlier, British
commandos had intercepted a few truckloads of weapons, including one
containing a working SA-7 missile, coming across the Iranian border.
But there was no way of determining whether the missile fired at the
C-130 had come from Iran—especially since SA-7s are available through
black-market arms dealers. Vincent Cannistraro, a retired C.I.A.
officer who has worked closely with his counterparts in Britain, added
to the story: “The Brits told me that they were afraid at first to tell
us about the incident—in fear that Cheney would use it as a reason to
attack Iran.” The intelligence subsequently was forwarded, he said.

 

The retired four-star general confirmed that British intelligence
“was worried” about passing the information along. “The Brits don’t
trust the Iranians,” the retired general said, “but they also don’t trust
Bush and Cheney.”