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reflections

Oct 5, 2009 | 01:56 GMT

4 mins read

The Significance of Leaks About the Iranian Nuclear Issue

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
COMMENTS ON IRAN have run the gamut, from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's statements that there is a small window of opportunity — with emphasis on “small” — to comments indicating that diplomacy is alive and robust and to the International Atomic Energy Agency chief's statement that there is a "shifting of gears" in the nuclear controversy. Our best guess is that no one really knows what will happen except perhaps the Iranians. They know how they will conduct themselves in these negotiations. But even they are not certain what the response will be. The most important news came with two leaks over the weekend. One was in the New York Times, which reported that the IAEA had a secret report claiming that the Iranians had accumulated all of the data needed to build an atomic bomb. The report also stated that U.S. intelligence is now re-examining the National Intelligence Estimate that deemed Iran was not actively working on a nuclear weapon. Retired Gen. James Jones, the national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, appeared on television Sunday saying that Washington would rely on its own estimate of the situation, implicitly demoting the importance of the IAEA report. Clearly, Jones does not want the Obama administration trapped in a rigid position, which acknowledging the report's validity would do. But it also indicates that the leak to the New York Times did not come from the White House, which means that a battle is starting over the intelligence analysis of Iran's nuclear capability. Whoever wins that battle defines the parameters of U.S. policy toward Iran. The combined effect of these two leaks, if they are confirmed, is to deepen the crisis. Even more interesting, the London Times reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's not-particularly-secret visit to Moscow was undertaken in order to deliver a list of Russian scientists and engineers who were working with Iran on a nuclear weapons program. We have spoken plenty in the past about cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, but if true, this would move that collaboration to a pretty extreme point. Moscow — along with our own sources — has been absolutely silent on the report. The London Times was pretty explicit and cannot simply be ignored, so we assume that officials in Moscow either are not sure what to say, are hoping the report will go away or are disturbed that the decision to support Iran against the United States' wishes is about to be blown apart. Normally, the Russians would simply dismiss the report as rubbish, or say that Russian scientists are free to go where they want and that they were not doing this under state auspices. But thus far, Moscow has opted to say nothing. The combined effect of these two leaks, if they are confirmed, is to deepen the crisis. The first leak basically says that the Iranians are much further along in developing a nuclear weapon than previously supposed and might be approaching the red line. The second report explains the first by saying the Iranians were getting outside support from the Russians. Taken together, the two reports raise questions about Western intelligence capabilities — unless this information was well known to Western intelligence, which would leave only the question of the value of keeping either of these facts secret. The important point is that, despite the relative calm surrounding the international negotiations with Iran, tensions are ratcheting higher. We will be discussing this in more detail in our weekly Geopolitical Intelligence Report, but what is clear for the moment is that there are elements in the West that do not want things to remain as calm as they are and that are leaking information which, if true, shows the fragility of the situation.

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