Israel, U.S. Skeptical About Pact Ending Iran Nuclear Program

Both Israel and the United States are skeptical about an agreement on Iran's nuclear program that Tehran concluded last week with three European foreign ministers.

Under the deal, Iran would freeze its uranium enrichment program and increase international supervision of its nuclear facilities by signing the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which permits surprise inspections. It also promised to give the International Atomic Energy Agency full details of its nuclear program by the October 31 deadline that the agency has set for such action.

But a senior Israeli intelligence official told Haaretz that "the Iranians are sending utterly contradictory messages to the Europeans and to their domestic arena. For domestic consumption, the Tehran leadership is already explaining that this is only a temporary halt.

"It is already possible to conclude with certainty that the Iranians have lied once again," the official continued. "Domestically, they describe their commitment to the Europeans as a temporary halt. They are not giving up their capabilities, but freezing them for a limited period.

"What [the IAEA] demanded of the Iranians was ... cancellation of their enrichment program," he added. "[The agency] should not accept any attempt on [the Iranians'] part to play around with this issue and make do with a temporary freeze."

However, the official said, the agreement did highlight the efficacy of European economic pressure on Iran.

According to a report published in the American journal Newsweek Monday, President George Bush's advisers are similarly skeptical about the deal. According to the report, the American administration believes that the Iranian regime is essentially comprised of three independent power centers: the moderates, headed by President Mohammed Khatami; the hardliners, headed by supreme spiritual leader Ali Khamenei; and an even more extreme faction comprised of clerics and intelligence officials. This third group has engaged in various extremist activities on the sly, including massive support for terrorist organizations, and the administration is thus not convinced that Khatami's government could enforce a nuclear freeze even if it sincerely wanted one.

Major General Aharon Ze'evi, the head of Israeli Military Intelligence, said this week in an interview with the journal of the Intelligence Heritage Center that he views the chances of halting Iran's nuclear program as "extremely low." Iran, he said, has been actively engaged in concealing this program, and to date, international efforts to halt it have had very partial success.