The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran released earlier this week should come as welcome information to all who support peace and stability in the Middle East. The report has determined with a high degree of confidence that Iran gave up an active nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran does not currently possess nuclear weapons. NIEs are considered to be the intelligence community's most authoritative statements on issues relating to U.S. security. The presidential candidates need to respond by promoting sound foreign policy positions based on this new intelligence.
In stark contrast to the false claims of the Bush Administration and many of the presidential candidates, the NIE evidence suggests that the political decision to acquire nuclear weapons has not been made by the Iranian leadership. We cannot assume that Iran wants (or doesn't want) nuclear weapons. Additionally, the report states that the Iranians seem to be guided by a cost-benefit analysis, instead of the illogic and irrationality of which they are so often accused.
Also in the report is the judgment that the only thing that can prevent the Iranians from eventually acquiring nuclear weapons is a decision by Iran's political leadership itself. It's worth asking, then - what would convince the Iranian government that nuclear weapons aren't necessary?
Like the U.S., Iran has real security concerns that need to be recognized and addressed. Regime change in Iran has been a repeated policy goal of the U.S. for decades, from the CIA-engineered overthrow of Iran's democratically elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 to the President's "Axis of Evil" speech of 2002. Additionally, the international community looked the other way during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein and with the tacit approval from the West, used chemical weapons on tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers without condemnation or censure from the world.
Iran has also faced repeated threats from two nuclear weapons states: the U.S. and Israel. Unhappily, the best-known candidates for president seem bent on continuing the threats: All of the top-polling Republican candidates have said they will keep the "nuclear option" on the table with Iran. In a bizarre departure from fact-based reality, Giuliani and Romney even seem to be actively courting a military confrontation as they stump along the campaign trail.
Clinton has stubbornly refused to take the "nuclear option" off the table. While Obama and Edwards have made the call for a nuclear-free world and have reframed the question about the "nuclear option" by emphasizing diplomacy instead, neither has unequivocally ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons.
In September, Clinton voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which, among other things, designates the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) as a terrorist organization. In defending her vote, Clinton claimed the IRG is involved in Iran's nuclear activities. Clinton should explain how the IRG can be actively engaged in Iran's nuclear weapons program if sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies claim no such program currently exists.
Regardless of which candidate we support - or are thinking of supporting - it is imperative that we challenge them to take positions on Iran based on the best available intelligence, realism, human rights and the law, instead of fear and propaganda - and publicly support candidates' efforts to do so.
We need to call on all of the presidential hopefuls and President Bush to support immediate negotiations with Tehran - without preconditions - and to forswear any military action against Iran. We must demand that Congress exercise its congressional responsibility and quickly pass legislation that would prevent the President from using our taxpayer dollars to attack Iran without congressional approval. Our policy makers, both present and future, must also clearly renounce the first-use of nuclear weapons. This is what one might call "leadership by example."
It is also time to revive the goal of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. U.N. Resolution 687, one of the resolutions supported by the U.S. that ended the first Gulf War in 1991, called for a nuclear-weapons free zone that would include Israel's current nuclear arsenal.
As long as there are state-sponsored threats of nuclear genocide by those with the capacity to deliver it, non-nuclear countries will be encouraged to acquire nuclear weapons - or at least think about it.
Anne Miller is Director of New Hampshire Peace Action. She traveled to Iran in 2005 as part of Peace Action's "Peace between Peoples" work.