Russia: Deal reached with Iran on nuclear plant construction
U.S. senator to propose commission to draft alternative Iran report using same intelligence referenced in NIE.
Russia and Iran have settled all differences over the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station and agreed on a time-table for its completion, the Russian contractor building the station said on Thursday.
"We have resolved all the problems with the Iranians," said Sergei Shmatko, president of Atomstroiexport. "We have agreed with our Iranian colleagues a timeframe for completing the plant and we will make an announcement at the end of December."
Russia's role in building the Bushehr plant on the Gulf is at the center of a diplomatic dispute. Western powers, which suspect Iran wants to develop a nuclear weapon, have pressed Moscow to drop the project.
Tehran says its nuclear program is exclusively intended to generate electricity and Moscow has dismissed concerns the Bushehr project would hand Iran sensitive technology that could help in a bomb-making program.
Russia had earlier suspended construction at Bushehr, saying Iran had failed to make payments for the work. Some observers say Moscow has been wary of the diplomatic outcry that could result when it delivers nuclear fuel to Bushehr.
Shmatko said the delivery of fuel - after which the plant can begin operating within six months - would go ahead, though he did not reveal details of the timetable.
"We absolutely, definitely intend to build the Bushehr atomic power station and intend definitely to deliver the fuel to the plant," said Shmatko.
Iran: Tehran views IAEA talks positively Iran said on Thursday its latest round of talks with the UN nuclear watchdog to resolve outstanding issues about its disputed atomic work were a positive step, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
Experts from the two sides started three days of talks on Monday under a deal reached in August between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to remove concerns about the country's nuclear work.
"Talks were held in a completely constructive atmosphere and this is another positive step by Iran ... to resolve the remaining issues," Mehr quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, as saying.
Soltanieh said the result of talks would be announced by the IAEA after "it finishes all the necessary evaluations."
Under the pact, Iran is to answer outstanding questions about its nuclear activities one by one.
The latest round of talks focused on questions about particles of arms-grade enriched uranium found by IAEA inspectors at Tehran's Technical University.
"At these meetings, answers to the Agency's technical questions regarding the issue of the source of contamination were given," Soltanieh told the official IRNA news agency.
The UN Security Council has imposed two rounds of limited sanctions on Iran since last December over Tehran's failure to heed a UN demand to halt uranium enrichment. The United States and Western allies want further measures.
Enriched uranium can be used both for fuelling power plants and, if desired, for making bombs.
The IAEA said in a report in November Tehran was cooperating but not proactively. IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran was making "good progress" in solving questions about its plans.
U.S. senator to call for new Iran report using same intelligence Meanwhile, a Republican senator plans to introduce legeslation to create a bipartisan commission to produce an alternative report on the Iranian nuclear issue based on the same intelligence referenced in an estimate released last week.
The National Intelligence Estimate, released last week, concludes Iran halted its weapons development program in 2003 and that the program remained frozen through at least the middle of this year. That reversed a key finding from a 2005 intelligence report, which said Iran was intently developing a nuclear bomb. An unclassified summary of the new report was released specifically to correct that impression.
The new report was received skeptically by some Republicans in Congress who believe Iran's nuclear program remains an immediate threat, and think the 2005 report is closer to the truth.
Republican Senator John Ensign plans to introduce legislation to create a bipartisan commission to produce an alternative report on the same intelligence.
"We just see politics injected into this," said Tory Mazzola, Ensign's spokesman. "When it comes to national security we really need to remove politics. We're saying, let's take a second look."
The proposed commission is based on similar review panels convened in the mid-1970s to reconsider the intelligence agencies' analysis of the Soviet Union, and an effort in the mid-1990s to reassess the threat of ballistic missiles to the United States.
Last week, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Republican, said at a committee hearing he does not trust the new findings.
"I'm not sure we have a good, clear signal of what's really happening inside Iran," he said. "We've got a very big batch of mixed signals."
Twice in the last week, senior U.S. intelligence officials have been forced to defend what they consider the most rigorously reviewed National Intelligence Estimate they have produced.
Principal Deputy Director of Intelligence Donald Kerr issued a statement responding to those questioning the analytic work and integrity of the intelligence agencies. "We feel confident in our analytic tradecraft and resulting analysis in this estimate," he said.
And on Wednesday, a senior intelligence official told reporters that intelligence analysts are aware of the political tumult surrounding the report but do not worry about the political repercussions of their judgments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was expanding on the official rebuttal.
"Analysts focus on making certain their reports are sound, logical and based on reliable information," he said.
He contrasted the Iran National Intelligence Estimate with the flawed 2002 assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. That report was produced at the request of the Senate Intelligence Committee in just a month.
"The Iran report was delayed by the intelligence agencies by more than a year and a half in order to review new intelligence and to take extra care to verify sources and consider alternative explanations for what analysts were seeing," he said.
National Intelligence Estimates are the consensus judgments of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies on key concerns. Between 15 and 20 are produced every year, and they go through multiple steps to check the validity of information and analysis.
In late 2002, then-CIA director George Tenet added another safety measure after the faulty Iraq report, which turned out to rely heavily on a single, questionable source.
Tenet required those who collect intelligence to sit at the table with those who analyze it to explain who their sources were, the confidence they have in them, and whether their information can be corroborated.
"There is so much more synergy now between the collection agencies and the analytic side," the senior official said. Everyone around the table is working with the same amount of information.
The estimates are also reviewed by outside experts who are given a one-day security clearance. Some are chosen specifically because they are known to have divergent views on what the key judgments say.
"We want to understand if we are victims of group-think in this analysis," he said.