As Undersecretary of State William Burns prepares to sit down with Iranian officials in Europe, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee expect no breakthroughs to come out of this latest round of talks with Iran.
“The president thought he was going to change a lot of things simply by the power of his personality,” Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R, Mich., told Newsmax in an interview. “But the bottom line is, he is not learning the lessons from history.”
Hoekstra believes President Obama missed a golden opportunity to focus on Iran’s nuclear weapons program when he chaired the United Nations Security Council last Thursday. “It was the opportune time to confront Iran, put together a unified front, and he passed on that,” he said.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy apparently agreed with that assessment.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown were “seething” over Obama’s lackluster approach toward Iran when the three met at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last Friday and revealed the existence of a previously clandestine Iranian nuclear site near Qom.
Senior Obama administration officials have given off-the-record briefings in recent weeks to Jewish groups and others who are concerned with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, during which they have blasted the Bush administration for not “engaging” the Iranian regime.
But the irony is the same official who will meet with the Iranians on Thursday as President Obama’s representative met with the Iranians in 2008 as President Bush’s representative — without results.
“The problem is not necessarily the approach the Americans take,” Hoekstra said. “It’s in not recognizing that the Iranians are the problem.”
Iran’s leaders have stated repeated in recent weeks that they have no intention of making any concessions on their nuclear programs in talks with the United States.
President Ahmadinejad has insisted in public that Iran won’t even discuss its nuclear ambitions with the United States or anyone. “We will never negotiate on the Iranian nation’s obvious rights,” he told reporters in Tehran on Sept. 7.
On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad unveiled his latest ploy to buy time in the talks, asking the United States and Europe to sign off on a plan to supply Iran with enriched uranium for a small research reactor in Tehran.
He said that Iran will provide enriched uranium to a foreign supplier so it can be further enriched and returned to Iran for use in an aging research plant supplied by the United States in the 1960s.
Despite the offer, Ahmadinejad’s offer does not address Iran’s violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as chronicled by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which include secret uranium conversion and enrichment plants and nuclear weaponization studies.
Iran’s Qom site is burrowed deep into a mountain next to a heavily guarded Revolutionary Guards base around 60 miles south of Tehran. The existence of the Qom facility was briefed to the congressional intelligence committees but not leaked to the press.
But it remains unclear when the U.S. government learned that the Qom facility was built as an uranium enrichment plant, and when they shared that analysis with Congress.
“Congress was in the loop and was briefed” about the site, Hoekstra said laconically.
Congress was not briefed, however, on the administration’s plans to cancel long-standing U.S. plans to install long-range missile defense interceptors in Poland and a strategic missile defense radar in the Czech Republic, Hoekstra said.
National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones told Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz earlier this month that the administration decided to abandon the long-range missile sites in Eastern Europe because of new intelligence on Iranian missile programs.
The Washington Times report cited two unidentified administration officials as saying that the new information was contained in a May 2009 National Intelligence Assessment (NIE) that concluded Iran wouldn’t have a long-range missile before 2020, instead of 2015.
Hoekstra told Newsmax that the administration didn’t present any new information on Iran’s missile programs, but “re-interpreted an old NIE” and came to different conclusions.
“I don’t believe there was an inflow of information we didn’t have access to before,” he said. “These are honest professionals looking at this data coming to a different conclusion that leads to a different policy that I have major questions with.”
Intelligence community sources told Newsmax that NIEs are routinely updated, and that the May 2009 update contained “nothing new — no new data,” even though the Obama administration used it as the justification for a dramatic shift in U.S. strategic defense policy.
The only recent development in Iran’s missile programs was the successful Feb. 3, 2009 launch of a small satellite into orbit, using the multistage “Safir” rocket.
An earlier test-launch of the Safir in August 2008 was considered a failure.
The successful February 2009 test showed that Iran had mastered “staging,” according Arms Control Association author Peter Crall. “Staging allows multiple rocket engines to be stacked on top of one another to increase the range and carrying capacity of the rocket system. It is one of the critical technologies needed for long-range missiles.”
Iran’s test of a multi-staged rocket was precisely the type of development that demonstrated progress in building an ICBM capable of reaching the United States, said Paula DeSutter, who served as assistant secretary of state for verification during the Bush administration.
The fact that the updated National Intelligence Estimate would conclude three months later that Iran’s long-range missile programs had suffered a five-year setback was mystifying, she told Newsmax.
An intelligence community analyst told Newsmax, “They tailored the intelligence to fit their political conclusions.”
Hoekstra said both the Clinton and Bush administrations tried to reach out to Iran’s leaders without success. “Presidents have been disappointed. I don’t expect anything different to happen with this president . . . The Iranians have not changed their ways, and I don’t expect them to change their ways.”