Stephen Hadley didn’t too good a job, in my opinion, of clearing up the NIE news that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon’s program. Worth reading the entire conference, but here’s an excerpt:
Q There had to be more than an inkling before today that this information, this intelligence, that the Iranians had an ongoing nuclear weapons program was incorrect. So why wasn’t — why then would the President allow it or advise to go ahead with ratcheting up the rhetoric, instead of toning it down, when right now this obviously raises issues of credibility with the American public and with American allies about U.S. intelligence?
MR. HADLEY: Two things. One, when the President was told that we had some additional information, he was basically told: stand down; needs to be evaluated; we’ll come to you and tell you what we think it means. So this was basically — as we said, this is information that came in the last few months, and the intelligence community spent a lot time to get on top of it.
Secondly, I would disagree with you that the President has ratcheted up the rhetoric. We have said — he has said, I have said, other administration officials have said many times, look, we want diplomacy to work. Because, as I said in my statement, we don’t want to be in a situation where the only two choices this or a future President has is to accept Iran on a path to a nuclear weapon or to have to contemplate the use of nuclear force — sorry, use of military force. Because that in the context of today’s Middle East is a big move.
And so the President, in that statement — as he said before and as he explained afterwards — was trying to give a wake-up call to the international community that we needed to step up the diplomacy and step up the pressure to get Iran to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program. And that still is the case today, because that is the path to weapons-grade material which would give Iran the option in the future to produce a nuclear weapon.
Q The President — you said the President was told to stand down on that —
MR. HADLEY: No, I said just the opposite. I said the President was told, we have some information, we have some new information not to stand down — said, we have some new information; give us some time to analyze it, and we will come to you and tell you what we think it means.
Q Was he told that before or after —
MR. HADLEY: And that’s what he was told, and they — as was briefed by the intelligence community today, they came to their final judgments on Tuesday of last week, and they told the President of the United States on Wednesday.
Q But was he given that advice before or after the World War III comment?
MR. HADLEY: I’ll have to — I’ll have to look.
Q Which was on October 20th.
MR. HADLEY: From my mind, it doesn’t make any difference, because the World War III comment you characterize as stepping up the rhetoric. I would say it was making a point that the President and we have been making for two or three years, that the international community has to exert more pressure because Iran needs to suspend its enrichment program.
That was the position of our policy before the National Intelligence Estimate, and for the reasons I said. That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.
Q Steve, just to clarify.
MR. HADLEY: Sure.
Q Is it fair to say that the intelligence came in, in recent weeks, not recent months? Because this — as was pointed out, the press briefing was late October when the President was asked definitively, do you believe Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb? And that’s where you get, in the second part of that answer, the World War III comment.
MR. HADLEY: Correct.
Q So was it recent weeks that this intelligence came in?
MR. HADLEY: What the intelligence community has said is in the last few months. And again I would say, if they were working on this information before that quote in October, again, in terms of the point the President was making, he would have made that comment before we got — the intelligence community got this information. He would have made that, I believe, that comment after. I just made it in this statement, which is, the international community has to understand that if we want to avoid a situation where we either have to accept Iran on the road to a nuclear weapon, with a path to a nuclear weapon, or the possibility of having to use force to stop it, with all the connotations of World War III, then we need to step up the diplomacy, step up the pressure to get Iran to stop their civilian — so-called civilian uranium enrichment program. That was our policy before his October comment, that was the policy between October — his October comment and today, and that’s our policy going forward; no change.
Q Steve, you just said you would describe it quite different. Just a minute ago —
MR. HADLEY: I think that’s right. And we would describe it —
Q Are you being consistent? I don’t think you’re being consistent.
MR. HADLEY: I am being consistent, because what we can say now is, that they actually had — which we did not know at the time of 2005 — they actually had a covert weapons program, which means we were right to be concerned; it was probably worse than we thought.
We would also say now, but that program, that covert nuclear weapon program has been suspended. And therefore it is important for our policy to continue to put diplomatic pressure on Iran so that the suspension — the halting, excuse me — the halting of their covert nuclear weapons program continues and that they suspend their uranium enrichment program. Because if you can do both of those things, maintain the halting of the nuclear weapons program and obtain the suspension of the uranium enrichment program, you’ve got some real assurance that Iran is not going to be on the path towards a nuclear weapon — assuming they don’t steal the weapon, they don’t get weapons-grade nuclear material from some other source. And it still leaves the worrisome fact that they’re working and developing ballistic missiles.
But it is a — so I would describe our posture differently. I would describe our assessment — the intelligence community would describe the assessment in a different way. But in terms of our policy, it continues to be one. And I would say it both underscores the urgency of the policy, and also gives us some confidence that it actually can work, but only if we pick up the pace.