Brits To CIA: Psyche!

The latest national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iran has come under considerable criticism for ist conclusion that the mullahs stopped pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003. Not only have Americans questioned the sudden reversal of the analysis, but even the Europeans wonder what the CIA has been drinking of late. The British have “grave doubts” about the veracity of this conclusion, and openly speculate that the CIA fell into a disinformation trap:

British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.
The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.
The security services in London want concrete evidence to allay concerns that the Islamic state has fed disinformation to the CIA.
The report used new evidence – including human sources, wireless intercepts and evidence from an Iranian defector – to conclude that Teheran suspended the bomb-making side of its nuclear programme in 2003. But British intelligence is concerned that US spy chiefs were so determined to avoid giving President Bush a reason to go to war – as their reports on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programmes did in Iraq – that they got it wrong this time.
A senior British official delivered a withering assessment of US intelligence-gathering abilities in the Middle East and revealed that British spies shared the concerns of Israeli defence chiefs that Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons.

Both the British and Israeli intelligence agencies operate on the conclusion that the Iranians still pursue nuclear weapons. This analysis has the benefit of explaining Iranian intransigence on IAEA compliance now, and the obfuscation the mullahs conducted before and after the 2003 revelation of their program. It also has the benefit of working on a worst-case scenario and pressing it forward until the Iranians allow solid verification that they have not pursued parallel programs in civilian and military nuclear programs.
The Telegraph also notes that, despite the media reporting on this side of the pond, the NIE did not reflect a consensus analysis among American intel agents. Middle-ranking agents just outside the political circle believe that the Iranians have never stopped pursuing nuclear weapons. They also tell the Telegraph that the US lost a number of intel assets in Iran shortly after the program got exposed, and that the basis for the new conclusion seems very weak.
“It’s not as if the American intelligence agencies are regarded as brilliant performers in that region,” British intelligence sources told the Telegraph. Nor are they adept at diplomatic isolation. The Brown government is said to be furious about the publication of the NIE, as Britain and France have worked hard to secure a third round of sanctions against Iran. Now the possibility of getting Russian and Chinese cooperation have completely dissipated, and Iran stands at the edge of freeing itself economically and diplomatically with its uranium-enrichment program intact — and all of the plans necessary to build a bomb. Within months, a 3,000-centrifuge cascade could provide the core material for a weapon, and the Shahab-3 could carry it all the way to Eastern Europe … and Israel.
The Bush administration released the NIE within days of its briefing. Some have questioned that decision, although given its authors and the track record of the CIA, it would have leaked shortly thereafter had the White House kept it classified. This may have helped expose a faction in the CIA that has determined to manipulate intelligence in order to conduct their own foreign policy. When even the Europeans scratch their heads at this assessment, Americans have to wonder whether the CIA has gone so far off the rails as to make it impossible for them to get back on track.

France, Germany Still Consider Iran A Threat

Despite the surprising conclusion of the American intelligence committee that Iran suspended its push for nuclear weapons, both France and Germany insisted that Iran represents a real threat. Nicolas Sarkozy still wants to impose harsher sanctions, although Angela Merkel would not commit to supporting another round at the moment. The two EU powers want Iran to end its uranium enrichment:

“Iran continues to represent a threat,” Mrs Merkel said during a joint news conference with Mr Sarkozy in Paris.
She did not specifically express support for a new UN sanctions resolution against Iran, which the US is calling for. ….
Mr Sarkozy said he agreed with his German counterpart that Iran still posed a danger, and that he supported the push for more sanctions.
“Notwithstanding the latest elements, everyone is fully conscious of the fact that there is a will of the Iranian leaders to obtain nuclear weapons.
“What made Iran move up to now, it was sanctions and firmness,” he said.

The statements show that the NIE has made little difference in the international evaluation of Iranian nuclear research. No one feels that the mullahs will simply give up their desire to wield nuclear power and shift the balance of power in the Middle East sharply in their favor. France, Germany, and Britain spent years attempting to convince Iran to allow verification of the shutdown of the program, offering a wide range of economic concessions. If Iran had nothing to hide, why not take advantage of the offers in 2003, 2004, or 2005?
If pressure and sanctions convinced the Iranians to shelve the nuclear-weapons research temporarily, then it would be madness to back away now. Iran has not acknowledged its previous work on nuclear weapons, much as they hid it for years until a dissident group exposed the program in 2003. No one trusts them now when they claim they have only pursued peaceful nuclear power, and so France and Germany — two nations that rely on trade with Iran — still want to keep Iran isolated.
It provides a helpful reminder that the danger has not passed. As long as Iran enriches uranium and builds ever-larger centrifuge cascades, they can build a weapon fairly quickly. They bought the knowledge from the AQ Khan network, and they already have the missile platform for delivery. The issue may not be as acute as first thought, but the danger remains real — and even if some Americans don’t take it seriously, Iran’s European trading partners still do.

When Did Fingar Change His Mind?

One of the main authors of the recently-released NIE on Iran sang a different tune to Congress less than five months earlier. Thomas Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard notes that Thomas Fingar testified to the completely opposite conclusion on July 11th, 2007 — that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons. This tends to substantiate that the change in posture came very recently:

Iran and North Korea are the states of most concern to us. The United States’ concerns about Iran are shared by many nations, including many of Iran’s neighbors. Iran is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations and working to delay and diminish the impact of UNSC sanctions than in reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution. We assess that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons–despite its international obligations and international pressure. This is a grave concern to the other countries in the region whose security would be threatened should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

Fingar gave this testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. As the Deputy Director of Analysis for the CIA, this could certainly be called the definitive standing for the intelligence community at the time. Fingar’s assessment would have formed the basis for White House policy. Yet just weeks later, Fingar would reach a conclusion completely opposite of the bolded portion above and reverse the high-confidence findings of the last several NIEs on Iran.
Confronted with this abrupt U-turn, the Bush administration must have wondered what happened at the CIA to get this so wrong. One can hardly blame them for insisting on a high-level review of the data and the conclusions to ensure that it really represented reality. The conclusions of the red team notwithstanding, the sudden turnabout in analysis over a period of years makes it hard to put trust into the current position.
It’s entirely possible that the new high-confidence conclusion is correct, and the previous high-confidence conclusions were all incorrect. Given that the same team has produced both, though, perhaps it is time to get people with better track records making these analyses.
UPDATE: On a tangent, Bill Roggio has some more interesting information on Iranian activity in Iraq, both at the Long War Journal and the Weekly Standard.

Confidence Games, High And Low

The NIE released on Monday said that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons effort in 2003 after international pressure forced it to change directions, a conclusion in which the intel community had “high confidence”. However, two years ago, the same intel community said that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons — and had the same “high confidence” level in that conclusion as well. The Wall Street Journal wonders if the intel community hasn’t played a confidence game on Iran, and notes a few of the players who might have reason to do so:

As recently as 2005, the consensus estimate of our spooks was that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and do so “despite its international obligations and international pressure.” This was a “high confidence” judgment. The new NIE says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003 “in response to increasing international scrutiny.” This too is a “high confidence” conclusion. One of the two conclusions is wrong, and casts considerable doubt on the entire process by which these “estimates” — the consensus of 16 intelligence bureaucracies — are conducted and accorded gospel status.
Our own “confidence” is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials,” according to an intelligence source. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration antiproliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage “described Brill’s efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as ‘bull — .'” Mr. Brill was “retired” from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
No less odd is the NIE’s conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to “international pressure.” The only serious pressure we can recall from that year was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time, an Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of a covert Iranian nuclear program to mill and enrich uranium and produce heavy water at sites previously unknown to U.S. intelligence. The Bush Administration’s response was to punt the issue to the Europeans, who in 2003 were just beginning years of fruitless diplomacy before the matter was turned over to the U.N. Security Council.

An alternate theory exists, of course. They could have been flat wrong in 2005 and corrected their intel in the last six months. With the push to improve human and signal intelligence since 2001, they may have successfully penetrated Iranian defenses and discovered more information about Iran, and adjusted their conclusions accordingly.
That, however, doesn’t change the fact that the intel community has consistently concluded until now that Iran had an active nuclear-weapons program, and refused to end it. That conclusion fits the facts somewhat better than the new one does. If Iran ended its nuclear program in 2003, why did they insist on refusing to verify it with their trading partners in the EU for the next several years? Why did the mullahs refuse to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and accept trade and diplomatic sanctions rather than allow verification at key sites? Just to prove a point when the US intel community suddenly reversed course, an event that no one predicted?
That makes no sense at all. The Iranians may have given up their weapons program in 2003, but if so, they did it then because of the exposure by the dissident group that year and the threat of American military force, as that was the sum total of “international pressure” in that year. The EU-3 began negotiations late that year with Teheran on this very subject, and that would have been the propitious time to allow verification. If Iran couldn’t find room for verification with Jacques Chirac’s France, Tony Blair’s Britain, and Gerhard Schroeder’s Germany in 2003, it wasn’t because they had stopped working towards a nuclear weapon.
At any rate, Iran still hasn’t offered complete verification of their nuclear intentions. If international pressure worked to supposedly shut down the nuclear program, then we need to continue it until Iran complies with UNSC resolutions and allows inspections of all suspected facilities for verification. As the Washington Post notes in an editorial, the latest high-confidence conclusion supports the Bush administration’s efforts to use diplomacy and economic pressure to force Iran into full disclosure of their supposed halt to their weapons program.

No Delay On NIE

After yesterday’s release of the declassified National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, a number of pundits assumed that the White House had suppressed the report for months. The conclusions of the NIE — that Iran had stopped pursuing nuclear weapons “years earlier” — led people to believe that the Bush administration had kept it locked away so it could pursue a policy of war against Iran. As the Washington Post reports this morning, the conspiracy theorists have overreached again (via Rick Moran):

While concluding that Iran’s weapons program is now halted, the NIE presents a mixed view of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. It portrays Iran’s ruling clerics as susceptible to international pressure, having abandoned an extensive and costly covert nuclear program in the face of threatened economic sanctions and global censure.
But the report also depicts Iran as cleverly preserving its options, by making steady strides toward a civilian nuclear energy capability that both complies with international law and puts the country on a course that will allow it to easily develop nuclear arms if it so chooses.
The report also states more confidently than in previous assessments that Iran’s military had been actively seeking to build a bomb. Iranian armed forces were “working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons” until the fall of 2003, it says.
The assessment, under preparation for more than 18 months, was completed on Tuesday and President Bush and Vice President Cheney were briefed on Wednesday, intelligence officials said. Hadley said Bush first learned in August or September about intelligence indicating Iran had halted its weapons program and was advised it would take time to evaluate.

Of course, the Washington Post manages to report this below the jump, well into the final half of the article. In the last paragraph, readers discover that DNI Mike McConnell decided to declassify this NIE because of its significant change from previous assessments, not in spite of it. None of this makes it into the lead for the article, where Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick talk about Bush’s “continuing campaign” against Iran.
In effect, the President and his team got confirmation of this information less than five days before it hit the papers. The conspiracy theorists who insisted yesterday that the White House kept it secret have to now explain why the administration so quickly published the findings. Is this a conspiracy to discredit conspiracy theorists?
The new information came from high-level intercepts, specifically communications between Revolutionary Guard commanders. One in particular complained openly about the shutdown of the nuclear weapons program — a violation of OPSEC that sounds a little convenient. However, the classified report references over a thousand pieces of information gathered by the intel community to support this conclusion.
So why did it take from August to the end of November to finalize the NIE? The data seemed so at odds with the conclusion of previous NIEs — all of which insisted that Iran continued to pursue nuclear weapons — that the DNI assigned a “red team” to punch holes in the new information. While that process continued, the White House continued its pursuit of sanctions against Iran, but began lowering the profile of the effort while the EU attempted talks. As soon as the red team finished its work, the NIE was completed and presented on Wednesday to the administration.
So much for the conspiracy theories. Whether this NIE is correct and the previous ones were not is anyone’s moderately-confident guess, but the presumption of evil at the White House has once again been shown for the paranoia it is.

Why We’re Not Bombing Iran

Some have expressed frustration at the slow pace of diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program. A recent setback in Europe created more calls for targeted military strikes against Iran’s known nuclear facilities, and military-intervention advocates wondered why the Bush administration didn’t strike at once. Wait long enough, and the Iranians would produce a mushroom cloud for a smoking gun.
The intelligence community has a different analysis of the situation:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of peaceful intentions on the part of the Iranian mullahcracy. Furthermore, as AJ Strata points out and the New York Times does not, the actual declassified NIE doesn’t even give its own analysis a ringing endorsement. Here’s what the NIE actually says:

• We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
• We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.)
• We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
• We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.
• Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

Hmm. What might have happened in 2003 to convince Teheran to stop its nuclear-weapons pursuit? Could it have been the events on its western border, where the American military removed a dictator that they couldn’t beat in eight years of brutal warfare? Libya’s Moammar Ghaddafi certainly had the same idea in 2003, and for that very reason.
The intelligence community only has high confidence on the point that the weapons program stopped for several years. Its confidence that they have remained quiet on weapons is moderate. That’s an admission that intel in Iran is hard to get, and reliable intel even less available. If they’re re-evaluating their analyses from two years ago, it’s a sign that their data is old and not terribly indicative of what’s happening now.
What do we know about Iran? They have openly bragged about getting a 3,000-centrifuge cascade in operation, on the way to 54,000. We know that the former can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium in nine months, the latter two weeks. We know that Iran got plans for nuclear weapons from the AQ Khan network. That tells us that even if Iran doesn’t want to build a bomb tomorrow, they can get to work on one rather quickly.
Right now, however, we think they’re waiting to see whether they want to make that move. We think that’s the case, based on limited intelligence. While Iran continues to run terrorist proxie groups, we have to focus on the shape of the threat we know, rather than what we think of their intentions. Therefore, the Bush administration has kept up pressure on Iran to end its nuclear program or at least the uranium enrichment, while rejecting for now the option of military intervention.
It explains why the White House has maintained its current policy, which seems sound and careful without being unnecessarily provocative. Read properly, it makes perfect sense.

Disappointment In London

The European Union closed out its latest round of talks with Iran over its nuclear program, proclaiming disappointment over the results. Javier Solana said the two sides would meet again in a month, but that will not stop the matter from returning to the UN Security Council. The US will press for another round of harsher sanctions:

The European Union said it was disappointed after talks with Iran on Friday seen as a last chance to avert U.S. pressure for tougher international sanctions over Tehran’s disputed atomic program.
The absence of a breakthrough at the London talks means six world powers meeting in Paris on Saturday will try to agree new penalties to propose to the United Nations, despite differences in their approach to halting Iran’s nuclear program.
“I have to admit that after five hours of meetings I expected more. I am disappointed,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters, adding he would meet Iran’s negotiator Saeed Jalili again before the end of December.
Iran, which had earlier vowed to pursue its disputed atomic program come what may, said it thought the negotiations had been “positive” and that talks would continue.

Solana responded negatively when asked whether Iran had brought any new initiatives to the table. He told reporters that Jalili had not proposed enough to keep from being disappointed. Jalili, on the other hand, sounded delighted, as did Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki when speaking to Basiji militia members. Mottaki declared that America had “lost” the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.
We’ll see. The US will now demand the EU’s full cooperation on sanctions, as well as Russia and China. After hosting the inordinately-quiet Annapolis peace conference this week, all of these players in the Iranian drama owe us a few more chits, and the White House will not hesitate to leverage them for harsher economic and diplomatic penalties on Teheran. Russia and China may balk, but the EU will probably have little choice but to comply. Nicolas Sarkozy stripped Europe of its fig leaf a few months ago, pointing out that war will be the only other option open to the West.
This may turn into a game of economic chicken. If the West squeezes hard enough, either the mullahs will have to back down and stop their enrichment, or the economic collapse will force Iranians to replace the mullahs. Let’s hope the squeeze works before their nuclear device does.

Petitioning Iran

Iranian interference in southern Iraq has more than just the Americans demanding its cessation. A petition drive protesting the mullahcracy’s involvement in violence has garnered over 300,000 signatures, including hundreds of leading Shi’ite clerics. The message — get out now (via CapQ reader Bill N):

More than 300,000 Iraqis including 600 Shi’ite tribal leaders have signed a petition accusing Iran of sowing “disorder” in southern Iraq, a group of sheikhs involved in the campaign said.
The sheikhs showed Reuters two thick bundles of notes which contained original signatures. The sheikhs said more than 300,000 people had signed the pages.
Such a public and organized display of animosity toward neighboring Shi’ite Iran is rare in Iraq. Iranian influence has grown steadily, especially in the predominantly Shi’ite south, since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“More than 300,000 people from the southern provinces condemned the interference of the Iranian regime in Iraq and especially in spreading security disorder in the provinces,” the sheikhs said in a statement.

Many people assumed that the natural affinity between Shi’ites in both countries would create an opportunity for Iranian hegemony in the south. Perhaps the Iranians assumed that as well; they certainly have acted to control the south through puppets like Moqtada al-Sadr and prior ties to Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi reaction shows that assumption to be rather simplistic and overstated.
Two factors work against such influence. First, Iraqis are primarily Arabs, and Iranians are Persians. The differences between the two go much farther back in history than Islam, and the cultural differences are significant. Neither group abides dominance by the other with much patience, and the violent imposition of Iranian will in the south only exacerbates the issue.
Secondly and more subtly, the two groups practice two different variants of Shi’ism. The Iranians have a Qom-based Shi’ite theology, one that insists on the fusion of theology and governance. Ruhollah Khomeini exemplified the Qom school, as did his Iranian revolution. Ali Sistani in Iraq comes from the Najaf school, the so-called “quiet” Shi’ite theology, one that separates theology from governance. Sistani has resisted involvement in Iraqi governance for this reason, preferring a more subtle form of leadership — one that Iraqi Shi’ites know and practice themselves.
The Iraqis do not want Iranian-style Islamic rule in the south, especially the tribal leaders who stand the most to lose in such a system. The Arabic nature of the tribal system does not translate into the Iranian model of Shi’ism, and the tribal leaders would have to cede their authority to the imams. None of the tribal leaders in southern Iraq will suffer that gladly.
The petition drive reminds us that Iraqis and Iranians may well build a strategic and economic alliance, as neighboring nations must to enhance stability, but they remain very different in basic ways. The Iraqis who signed the petition just reminded the Iranians of that as well.
UPDATE: CapQ reader Shavan makes an interesting observation by e-mail:

It’s quite debatable that there is a quietist school vs. an activist school: Shi’ism per se had become politically quietiest over time given Sunni dominance, and also due to theology. Khomeini developed his own activism in the sixties, esp. in opposition to the Shah, and which was not necessarily shared by others in Qom. (see, “The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran”, Roy Mottahedeh). Khomeini also used to lecture in al-Najaf, and his ideas on vilayat-i faqih were articulated therein (see, “Islam and Revolution”, Ayatollah Khomeini, tr. Hamid Algar). Scholars/students used to study at both al-Najaf and Qom, and absorbed teachings from both schools. Even under the last Shah and Saddam, exchanges always took place.
A tenet of Shi’ism is the following of a qualified mujtahid; thus, people attach themselves to the ideas of a mujtahid (Tabatabai’i, Khomeini, Sistani, et. al.), but not necessarily a school (as w/Sunni Islam, e.g., Hanafi, Hanbali, etc.). Sistani has developed his own brand of activism, and partly in opposition to Khomeini. Indeed, as Ervand Abrahaminian notes, Khomeini’s ideas are best described as “Khomeinism” (title of Ervand’s book).

As a practical matter, Sistani still exemplifies a “quietist” approach, while the mullahs in Iran follow Khomeinism. Given how badly Sadr and the Khomeinists in Iraq have stumbled, it appears Sistani’s winning the argument in his home country, and Iran is failing to extend its influence.

Official Denouncement Of Ahmadinejad?

The mullahcracy may have had enough of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A well-connected state-run newspaper in Iran accused him of “immoral” behavior by calling opponents of the nuclear program “traitors”. The Islamic Republic has close ties to supreme cleric Ali Khameini, and its editorials usually reflect the viewpoint of the ruling clique:

In a hard-hitting editorial on Wednesday, the paper said the president’s treatment of his critics was immoral, illogical and illegal.
It was referring to a recent speech by Mr Ahmadinejad when he described people opposed to his nuclear programme as traitors and accused some senior former nuclear negotiators of spying for foreigners.
The paper said Mr Ahmadinejad was using this tactic to discredit his political rivals prior to the parliamentary elections due early next year.
It called on Iran’s judiciary to perform its duty and punish people who make baseless allegations and cause public anxiety.

What to make of this? Ahmadinejad owes his position to the mullahs, and could not have won without the consent of Khameini. His rhetoric has been understood to reflect the positions of the Guardian Council, at least of enough of them to matter.
The newspaper’s demand for judicial action could not have come without Khameini’s approval, at least tacitly. The nuclear program cannot be the reason for this issue, but Ahmadinejad’s clumsy diplomacy might. The increased sanctions, fueled in part by Ahmadinejad’s careless rhetoric about America and Israel, have bit deeply into the economy. Popular discontent has increased sharply, to the point where some might actually welcome an American decapitation attempt.
That discontent may be precisely the reason Ahmadinejad has received such a momentous public rebuke. The policy goals remain the same, but the delivery has been botched to the point where Iranians appear restive enough for a counter-revolution against the mullahs. This denouncement signals to the people that they share the disfavor of the people for the current administration — and that the judiciary may step in to end it.
Will the Iranians risk a mouthpiece coup? If they’re worried enough about their internal security, Ahmadinejad is eminently dispensable.

Iranian Nobel Laureate: Stop The Enrichment

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi will soon make the Iranian traitors list, as conceived by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ebadi has called for suspension of the uranium enrichment program and demanded that Teheran negotiate in good faith for a peaceful nuclear-energy program with the UN, offering a rare display of domestic dissent on the issue:

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi has called on Iran to suspend its controversial nuclear work to avert what she says is a mounting threat of war the US.
“Using nuclear energy is every nation’s right, but we have obvious other rights including security, peace and welfare,” she told a press conference. ….
Correspondents say Ms Ebadi’s comments represent an unusually explicit condemnation of the government’s entrenched policy at a time of mounting tension with western powers.
“We can hear the evil sounds of war drums, however far away. We don’t like it but there is probability of war,” she said. “In the past 30 years there has been a revolution and eight years of war. People are tired and want peace and quiet to lead their lives.”

Ahmadinejad has called any kind of domestic opposition to the nuclear program treason, and he has the police state necessary to enforce that policy. Whether he can make it stick with Ebadi remains to be seen. Ebadi has a high international profile, and her arrest would only exacerbate an already difficult relationship with most of the international community. Even Russia and China might have to react to such a move, and certainly Europe would vehemently protest it — and Iran’s standing has slipped precipitously there already.
Ebadi’s protest might embolden the general opposition to the mullahcracy. Part of the predicate for their uprising against the mullahs is based on the suicidal direction of their foreign policy and its effect on their economy. Having Ebadi make that case, subtly but clearly in this instance, helps give them credibility and momentum. At the least, it provides a counterbalance to the propaganda efforts of the Ahmadinejad regime in convincing Iranians that their nuclear-weapons initiative is a patriotic endeavor with no ill consequences.
In that sense, Ahmadinejad may have no choice but to silence Ebadi. How long will it be before he acts to isolate her? If he does, will the international community demand her freedom, or will they act as supinely as they have through most of the nuclear standoff with the mullahs?