BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Nuclear ambitions?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:24 UK time, Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Has Iran given up on ambitions to make nuclear weapons? That is the question dominating international media and American political debate today following the publication yesterday of the National Intelligence Estimate in Washington and led The World Tonight last night (which you can listen to here).

The World TonightThe NIE is the collective view of all the various intelligence agencies operated by the US government and carries considerable weight in the formulation of American foreign and security policy. The report says Iran did have a nuclear weapons programme but suspended it four years ago, though, the intelligence agencies believe, the Iranian government retains the option to restart its programme.

On The World Tonight, we have been criticised by listeners in the past for viewing the world from an American perspective - something I have blogged on before. But whether the US intelligence agencies are right or wrong about Iran - and since the failure to find evidence of a current chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programme in Iraq following the invasion of 2003 we know intelligence agencies are fallible - I believe the report is worth the attention it's getting because it feeds so directly into US policy-making.

To try to get the most balanced perspective we could last night we turned to the Iranian analyst, Abbas Milani, who is now based at Stanford University in California. He pointed out that both Tehran and Washington would probably cherry-pick the report and claim it bolstered their position - this has been borne out today with statements coming from the two capitals - but he said it does neither.

Iran has denied it intends to make nuclear weapons and insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. But Professor Milani said it is probable that Iran did have a weapons programme and may well have suspended it in 2003 when the US invaded Iraq and defeated the Iraqi army which the Iranians were unable to defeat in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s - something that could have given Tehran pause for thought.

On the American side, as recently as six weeks ago, President Bush said that anyone interested in preventing World War III should be worried about Iran's nuclear programme and senior US officials have given the impression that Iran's nuclear ambitions are an imminent threat, so this report should give policy makers in Washington pause for thought too.

The BBC's North America editor, Justin Webb, has blogged on this too and he wonders whether this impression may have been what motivated the intelligence agencies in framing this report. Our presenter, Robin Lustig, has also taken a close interest in US/Iran relations on his blog.

The report - like all intelligence - will inform, but not determine, policy towards Iran. After all it's politicians who make policy, not intelligence agents.

Our sister programme, The World at One, had a go earlier at trying to find out how this report may affect British policy - Britain being one of the three EU countries (along with Germany and France) who are leading negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, was cautious though. He refused to commit, saying Britain would study the report but make its own intelligence assessments, but he said the report fits into the wider strategy of negotiating, and offering carrots and threatening tougher sanctions on Iran to try to get Tehran to agree not to continue enriching uranium.

As with any story that involves intelligence as well as trying to interpret what is going on behind closed doors in Western capitals as well as Tehran, we will continue to ask questions of all sides and look at this issue from the perspectives of all sides to try to help make sense of what is going on. I hope we can shed some light.


  • 1.
  • At 07:10 PM on 04 Dec 2007,
  • gregor aitken wrote:

i think you guys at the BBC have become completly detached from anything close to reality.

Yourself and Justin should know a lot better than this.

Since the 9/11 con, we have waged 2 aggressive wars or is it one perpetual war against 'terrorists' who 'hate freedom', and you are now at the forefront of trying to convince us of starting a third.

This time against Iran.

and it's potentially nuclear

The first charges at Nuremberg were for waging an aggressive war.

The powers that be have given us reasons for these wars, reasons that have changed and moved from chasing terrorists, to hunting for WMD's, to expanding global Liberty (my favourite one)

You the media never just call it what it is, its the military industrial capitalist western machine trying to take over the world. Get the OIL

So now you are going to start the argument for us having a nuclear strike against a nation of innocent people. i am disgusted that you could even entertain arguing this.

I think you Media folks are so close to the power and watching it and wanting it that you have completley forgotten what civilisation is about, you don't ever make a moral stand and you certainly dont bother with your role as a fourth estate, instead you have become the public relations arm for the Western Death machine, helping with the lies and misinformation, turning a blind eye when needed and keeping the people busy with cheap entertainment

You refer to Justins Blog in yours, but say nothing about there not being a single comment which backs what he says, in fact shock and horror is how the responders seem to feel.

Instead of writing about the Taser epidemic in the US or the Destruction of the constitution, or their claim that they can legally kidnap British citizens if they wish, or giving a fair presentation of 9/11 and 7/7, you could look into the nuclear missiles flown across the US, you could write about the NAU and such issues, you could mention the mass suicide rate among veterans,, but no. What you guys want is a nuclear strike and you are gonna do your best to make it happen by building an argument.

911 was an Inside Job, the inteligence agencies know it, the media probably know it, and more and more of the people know it. The Ex president of Italy has now come out and said it, as has a previous german foreign minister and an ex british minister.

And now we have the same situation building up, the Industrial military Machine needing a big reason to go to war.

Its what they want and it seems to be what you want but i can assure you its not want the people want. We don't want nuclear war, a real one or a fake one used to justify future actions.

So please do your Job and start warning the people about exactly how close we are to few big bombs going off, and tell me for you service in pushing for iran do you get a warning.

i expect no reply Alistair, i know BBC journalist see joining in a debate on their own blogs as below them. (barring a chosen few), but if your going to try and set me straight on my views, dont bother. The only way to convince me and others that you are not propogandists for war would be by having an open and honest review and debate of 9/11 and what actually hapopened that day.

The most important day in modern history, Thousands of questions asked to the bbc through these blogs and all you have output is one hour long debunking documentary.

So go on lead us to war, but as the comments below Justins Blogs and Peters Blogs and Steves Blogs and Richards Blogs all ask impoortant questions and your ignoring of them just makes you sound mad when you try and convince us on other issues.

The only light you have shed on anything is that the BBC certainly does not serve the people anymore and that we are very exposed without an active media

  • 2.
  • At 07:37 PM on 04 Dec 2007,
  • John K wrote:

Please do continue to ask questions of all sides over this issue - the BBC is at its best when it does this.

It might also be useful to put this issue in the context of the fact that Israel already has nuclear weapons, refuses to admit this or sign the NPT, and has not ruled out using them - something the West is conveniently mute on, and the BBC rarely mentions.

  • 3.
  • At 08:40 AM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

This is really strange!

The BBC absolutely and strongly believe this US intelligence report.

Why do they question other US intelligence reports so vigorously?

Is it because they don't fit it's agenda?

"The report - like all intelligence - will inform, but not determine, policy towards Iran."

Any intelligence report that has conclusions that are divergent from the aims of the US administration will have very little influence. The spooks will simply be sent back out to find something that is more likely to legitimise the goals of the policy makers.

  • 5.
  • At 10:11 AM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • DaveH wrote:

Two dodgy dossiers and a war in April then? The CIA report apparently led to a fall in oil prices - there is a clue there - although Iran is now pricing in euros (and guess who did that before).

You will not learn much about the real intelligence picture given that any annoucnements are filtered through the same organsations and politicians, who lied last time.

  • 6.
  • At 02:31 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • Orville Eastland wrote:

A few questions which you may wish to look into are:
1. Could the Iranians have told the US about this earlier? (The Iranians were providing covert assistance in Afghanistan...and they offered to negotiate, but the US turned them down.)
2. Was this cancellation of their nuclear program a result of the US invasion of Iraq or diplomatic pressure by the EU?
3. Did the Ayatollah play any role in the cancellation of the program? (He did issue a Fatwa AGAINST developing/stockpiling nuclear weapons in 2005...)

Oh, and would it be possible for the BBC to interview Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who has stated earlier that, based on public intelligence, Iran didn't have a nuclear weapons program?

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.