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2005 vs. 2007 Iran National Intelligence Estimate

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007

At the end of the unclassified summary of the 2007 NIE on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities, released this week, the National Intelligence Council provided this helpful chart to explain the basic differences between the 2005 assessment and this latest one:

Is it just us, or is the biggest difference between the two assessments information about the past -- that is, the new judgment that Iran halted its program in 2003? As for the more important questions of what Iran is doing now and what it will do in the future, there doesn't appear to be very much useful difference between the 2005 and 2007 assessments.

According to this chart, in 2005 U.S. intelligence had high confidence that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons." In 2007, by contrast, they "do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

In 2005, U.S. intelligence assessed that it was unlikely that Iran would make a nuclear weapon "before early-to-mid next decade." The 2007 estimate says Iran "probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe." The time frame is the same, but in one instance Iran is likely to do something during that time and in the latter is only technically capable of doing it.

Finally, in 2005 intelligence analysts said Iran could produce enough fissile material to produce a nuke by 2009 if they make quick progress. The 2007 estimate says the same thing, only it adds that "this is very unlikely."

And remember that this chart is supposed to include all the most glaring differences between the two documents. It's clear, therefore, that this new NIE represents but a miniscule tick toward the safe side on the Iran danger meter. Of course, politically, such a small tic can make all the difference.

Hawks and those who favor preemptive action desperately will seize on that "we do not know" to argue that we can't afford to find out, and others will exaggerate the differences between the two assessments to push a softer line.

Meanwhile, outside of the Washington, with the help of those who are willing in Europe and (and even occasionally with the help of Moscow and Beijing), the status quo will continue, which means a gradual stepping up of pressure, mostly through economic sanctions.