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Lift Sanctions, Normalize Relations: What President Obama Should Say Tonight to Close the Deal With Iran

The State of the Union offers President Obama a high-profile opportunity to finally close the deal with Iran over its nuclear program by accepting the need for U.S. concessions on sanctions.

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It is important that you take this opportunity to travel down a different path, respecting the intelligence professionals who have concluded for half a decade that Iran has – over the past decade – NOT been building a nuclear bomb.

What you might find a bit disquieting is this: it appears you have a choice between two mutually contradictory tacks to take on Iran. John Brennan, your nominee for CIA director, in his prepared remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 7, claimed that Iran is “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons.” (emphasis added)

In making that claim, Brennan has put himself in company with evidence-deprived Bush/Cheney leftovers and lingering neoconservatives who have been largely discredited in their warning of gloom and doom from Iran (as well as, earlier, from Iraq). (See Consortiumnews.com’s,  “ John Brennan’s Tenet-Like Testimony.”)

You will remember that after fraudulent intelligence was served up ten years ago to “justify” attacking Iraq, new management was put in place in 2005 to manage National Intelligence Estimates. An NIE on Iran became the first order of the day, since it was no secret that Iran was next, after Iraq, on the Bush/Cheney list to attack.

The National Intelligence Estimate completed in November 2007 concluded, unanimously and “with high confidence” that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization in 2003 and had not resumed that work – a judgment revalidated each year since by the Director of National Intelligence.

This has not prevented neocons and their favorite media personalities from trying to make Iran’s nuclear program seem more menacing. On Meet the Press on Feb. 3, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the subject of attempted mousetrapping by NBC’s Chuck Todd, who was hoping Panetta could be maneuvered into contradicting the NIE.

It was awkward for Panetta, but – to his credit – rather than apologize when Todd accused him of believing “the Iranians were not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Panetta held firm, under considerable goading.

Finally, after conferring with co-panelist Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, with some exasperation:  “I– no, I can’t tell you because– I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we– we– we’re– they’re doing right now. …” (emphasis added)

So you have an odd choice, Mr. President. On this crucial issue, you can go with the professional intelligence analysts who have scoured the evidence for signs that Iran had restarted the weapons part of its nuclear development program – and who came up empty – the position embraced by your outgoing Defense Secretary who also was your first CIA director. Or you can go with the stated view of your current nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan, which dovetails with more alarmist warnings from the same discredited quarters that claimed Iraq had all manner of weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps the way around this awkward situation is to advance the debate beyond this contradiction over intelligence and to declare that the United States is ready to formalize a permanent deal with Iran to prevent it from resuming work on nuclear weaponization. That would be an accomplishment worth cheering.

 
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
 
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