Israel Trying to Convince US That Iran Is Still Pursuing Nukes

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Contrary to an intelligence report issued in the United States last week, Israel believes that Iran is still trying to develop nuclear weapons, and it will try to prove it to the international community, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday.

"Israel will work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency to expose the Iranian military's plan to develop a nuclear weapon," Olmert was quoted as saying.

Olmert said there is no reason for Israel to alter its own intelligence assessment, even if the U.S. has altered its assessment. Unclassified portions of a report released last week said Iran had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003. (A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released in 2005 said Iran was still pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. The latest NIE contradicts that 2005 assessment.)

"Iran is continuing to pursue the two vital components needed for a nuclear weapons program -- developing and advancing their rocket arsenal and enriching uranium," Olmert said.

Israel will continue to work with the U.S. and the international community on the diplomatic and intelligence tracks to strengthen Israel's position and not "let up on closely monitoring Iran's actions," he said.

Olmert's comments came ahead of a 24-hour visit to Israel by Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen. Mullen has visited Israel previously, but his visit on Monday is the first by a top military commander in ten years.

According to reports, Israeli military officials will present Mullen with intelligence information on Iran in an attempt to persuade him that Iran is still pursing nuclear weapons.

Many experts and commentators here worry that the NIE greatly reduces the possibility that the U.S. would carry out a military strike against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nukes.

Israelis also believes the NIE makes it unlikely that the international community will agree on a third round of sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions are intended to stop Iran from its efforts to enrich uranium.

Some here suggested that the U.S. has virtually abandoned Israel in the face of the Iranian threat.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted over the weekend that the NIE had come at an awkward time. "It has annoyed a number of our good friends, it has confused a lot of people around the world in terms of what we are trying to accomplish," Gates was quoted as saying.

In remarks delivered in Manama, Bahrain, Gates noted that the NIE says Iran is still trying to enrich uranium, a key step in the production of nuclear weapons. The NIE also said Iran has the ability to restart its nuclear weapons program "at any time -- if it has not done so already."

Gates is among those leading the Bush administration's call for the world to keep up the pressure on Iran, through sanctions and diplomacy.

"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or the cost in the blood of innocents - Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike," Gates said. "There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week welcomed the NIE as a "victory for Iran" and a "final blow" for its enemies.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said that the Foreign Ministry had submitted a formal protest to the Swiss Embassy, which takes care of U.S. Affairs in Tehran, "and demanded an explanation over [U.S.] espionage activities taking place" regarding Iran's nuclear program, the official IRNA news agency reported.

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