Friday, December 7, 2007

Russia dismisses U.S. claims Iran sought nuke prior to 2003

(RIA Novosti) - Russia has no information on Iranian attempts to develop nuclear weapons before 2003, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

His statement came following a Monday publication by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Tehran had halted weapons production in 2003, although it was continuing to enrich uranium.

"We have no data that such work was conducted before 2003, although our American colleagues have claimed that this was the case," Lavrov told a news conference.

"During our continuous contacts over the last two or three years we exchanged assessments based on intelligence data obtained before 2003, and the information our U.S. colleagues possess does not support the statements that Iran ever had a military nuclear program," Lavrov said.

The Russian minister said the issue still needs to be clarified, a goal set by the UN nuclear watchdog.

The UN Security Council introduced two rounds of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, and Washington has insisted on new sanctions. Lavrov said the sensible restrictions will remain in place until all enrichment issues have been clarified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We will consider the proposal on a new UN Security Council resolution taking into account all these factors, including the public confirmation that the U.S. has no data that would corroborate that Iran had a military nuclear program," the minister said.

The U.S. report, contradicting a previous U.S. intelligence assessment in 2005 which said that Iran was actively pursuing a nuclear bomb, has pleased Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said: "That report symbolizes a victory for the Iranian nation against international forces on the issue of nuclear weapons."

But Lavrov said the U.S. position on Iran has not toned down since the publication. "I would not describe the U.S. position as softer in any way," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush remained hawkish, despite the report, saying on Tuesday that, "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the know how to make a nuclear weapon."

When asked if military action remained an option, the president answered, "The best diplomacy - effective diplomacy - is one in which all options are on the table."

"What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?" the president told a news conference at the White House.
(Note: is there any reason *not* to believe Lavrov? I really think that there is none. Sure, the Russians have major economic and political interests in Iran, but they are already well-served by the theory that Iran stopped all its alleged nuclear weapons research in 2003. Simply put, there is no reasons for the Russians to lie here. The question then is how good the Russian intelligence on Iran is likely to be. I would argue that is is most likely the best on the planet. Russia has plenty of Farsi speaking intelligence analysts and it has a large number of expats in Iran, many working inside the civilian nuclear program. Unlike the USA or Israel, Russia most likely has, over many years, most likely developed a solid human intelligence capability in Iran. Lastly, Lavrov's statement is in full agreement with what has been said by pretty much ever expert in this field. The 'secret program stopped in 2003' nonsense is evidently the result of horse trading between the Neocons and the US intelligence community who probably had to agree to this concession - based on the 'smoking laptop' with documents written in English on it - in order to finally get this crucial NIE out)