ABCnet: To the United States now where questions are again being asked about whether the Bush administration is again trying to build the case for the invasion of a Middle East enemy, by distorting the facts about the extent of the threat it poses.
The world's atomic watchdog has labelled a US congressional report on Iran's nuclear capability as outrageous, dishonest and misleading, saying its claims that Iran is well advanced in enriching nuclear material for weapons are simply wrong.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's Melissa Fleming says the agency felt compelled to raise its objections in an official letter.
MELISSA FLEMING: There were inaccuracies in the report and it was important for us to set the record straight to the US Congress on the facts. Also this was a matter of integrity of the IAEA and its inspectors.
ABCnet: That's the IAEA's Melissa Fleming.
Well a nuclear proliferation analyst in the United States says the release of the flawed congressional report suggests the Bush administration is softening up the public for a war in Iran as early as next year.
Joe Cirincione has advised the US House of Representatives on national security and nuclear proliferation and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He says the congressional report attacking Iran, is a repeat of the flawed and exaggerated information that was used to build the case for invading Iraq.
Joe Cirincione, how damaging for the administration is this IAEA letter with the fact that it's been made public?
JOE CIRINCIONE: Well it's really a hit on the House Republicans who are the target of this IAEA letter. It also, though, rebounds on the President and hurts the credibility of the overall administration effort on Iran. A letter like this, raising doubts about a Republican intelligence report on Iran undermines US efforts to try to rally international support for stronger action against Iran.
ABCnet: Well you read the report, just how flawed is it?
JOE CIRINCIONE: This is a terrible report. I've been on staff of the House. I served ten years on the staff of the House. If I had written a report like this my chairman never would have let it get out the door.
The problem is it's the same kind of faulty intelligence reporting that we saw during the Iraq war. It's cherry picking intelligence. It takes some seemingly damning pieces of evidence and presents them while pushing aside pieces of evidence that might give a contrary impression.
It cuts out any caveats or any doubts about the intelligence and presents basically a picture of an Iran as an imminent, urgent threat determined to get nuclear weapons or a country that might already have nuclear weapons. It's a terrible piece of work.
ABCnet: So nothing's been learned from the Iraq intelligence experience?
JOE CIRINCIONE: I think some of the Conservatives and Representative Hoekstra who's the Chairman of this committee who commissioned this report, I think he learned that in fact the technique works. The lesson they seem to have learned is that if you repeat the charge often enough some of it will stick.
ABCnet: How big are the mistakes though, I mean how big an error is it to say that Iran is producing weapons grade uranium if it is enriching? Isn't it just a matter of degree?
JOE CIRINCIONE: Well it's a big matter of degree. It takes a lot more work to bring the enriched uranium up to weapons grade and remember Iran has only produced gram quantities of enriched uranium. The IAEA has tested this and they said it comes in at about 3.6. That's low enriched uranium, that's the level you need for a fuel rod. High enriched uranium for a bomb has to be 70 per cent pure, 90 per cent pure. There's no evidence that Iran is anywhere close to that.
What we're worried about is some trace specks that we found on some equipment that is in fact more highly enriched, in the 20 per cent or 30 per cent range. Most of that has been traced back to the country of origin for this equipment, which is Pakistan.
But this report claims directly that Iran is enriching weapons grade uranium. That simply isn't true. And this unprecedented letter to the United States, never have we seen a letter like this before, not even during the hyperbole around the Iraq weapons program did we see a letter like this coming from the IAEA.
ABCnet: So does the release of this report publicly mean that the administration may be trying to soften the US public up for a military campaign in Iran?
JOE CIRINCIONE: I believe that is exactly what is going on. I believe that there is a debate inside the administration and there are factions fighting this out in the administration.
There are rumours beginning to swirl in Washington about a plan for attack that is already at the White House and that in fact the President favours an attack and that the military is trying to talk him out of it.
That's the background to this committee report and the IAEA letter of protest that came out just today.
ABCnet: Because some people would say that it would seem unrealistic for the Bush administration at this stage to be looking at military action in Iran when it is so over stretched in Iraq.
JOE CIRINCIONE: Many people would say that. I would say that. But unrealistic has never been the filter for this administration's policy. Simply because something is unrealistic doesn't mean they won't do it.
And I am very worried about this situation in the new year. Not this election cycle. No president in their right mind would start a war that would put the price of gasoline at $5 or $6 a gallon before an election but I'm very worried about what might happen in the Spring of next year. We might see a replay of the Iraq war scenario.
And I'm afraid that even when there are real threats, North Korea, Iran is a real threat, this administration is very poorly poised to garner the kind of international cooperation you need to counter those threats.
ABCnet: And that's Joe Cirincione a nuclear expert on the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States.
McClatchy Newspapers report, "In a replay of Iraq, a battle is brewing over intelligence on Iran":
In an echo of the intelligence wars that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a high-stakes struggle is brewing within the Bush administration and in Congress over Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program and involvement in terrorism.
U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Bush political appointees and hard-liners on Capitol Hill have tried recently to portray Iran's nuclear program as more advanced than it is and to exaggerate Tehran's role in Hezbollah's attack on Israel in mid-July.
The struggle's outcome could have profound implications for U.S. policy.
President Bush, who addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, has said he prefers diplomacy to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he hasn't ruled out using military force.
Several former U.S. defense officials who maintain close ties to the Pentagon say they've been told that plans for airstrikes — if Bush deems them necessary — are being updated.
The leader of a Persian Gulf country who visited Washington recently came away without receiving assurances he sought that the military option was off the table, said a person with direct knowledge of the meetings.
"It seems like Iran is becoming the new Iraq," said one U.S. counterterrorism official.
This official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the information involved is classified.
But one facet of the dispute recently broke into public view.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complained in an unusual letter made public on Thursday that a House intelligence-committee report on Iran contains "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."
Time magazine lays out what war with Iraq would look like:
A flurry of military maneuvers in the Middle East increases speculation that conflict with Iran is no longer quite so unthinkable. Here's how the U.S. would fight such a war--and the huge price it would have to pay to win it.
[The article can be read in full here.]
It's not a pretty picture: It would kick-start World World III as Bush and the GOP like to say is already happening, but isn't. It would be an even greater recruiting tool for terrorists than the Iraq war has been. It would make Americans profoundly more vulnerable to terrorist attacks both here and overseas, and there would be no turning back from "All War, All The Time," which is exactly how Bush-Cheney have wanted it. Scorched earth policy. Americans would lose all remaining civil liberties guaranteed to us in the Constitution. Our country and the world would never be the same; not in our lifetime, not in our children's, grandchildrens' and, most likely, never again.
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