By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 7, 2009
Despite Iran's progress since 2007 toward producing enriched uranium, the State Department's intelligence analysts continue to think that Tehran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013, according to a newly disclosed congressional document.
The updated assessment, by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, emphasizes that the analysis is based on Iran's technical capability and is not a judgment about "when Iran might make any political decision" to produce highly enriched uranium.
The intelligence community agrees that a political decision has not yet been made. According to the assessment, State Department analysts think such a decision is unlikely to be made "for at least as long as international scrutiny and pressure persist."
The views on Iran's nuclear program are contained among answers in a document supplied by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after a hearing in February. Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request and published it Thursday on his Web site.
Among items included in the document is an analysis of Russia's military status. Blair concluded the Russian military "is a shadow of its Soviet predecessor." Its conventional forces are "not a direct military threat to central or western Europe," and its ability to project large forces abroad "is very limited."
In fact, according to the intelligence analysis, Moscow appears to be emphasizing the creation of a "smaller, more professional, mobile, survivable, highly technical military," one more adapted to deal with countries on its borders, except for China. The analysis describes recent Russian naval activities in the Mediterranean, the Indian and Pacific oceans, and the North Atlantic as "show the flag" exercises.
As a sign of the limitations, Moscow has "consistently" kept its defense spending to less than 3 percent of its gross national product in recent years. U.S. defense spending this year is around 4.7 percent of its gross domestic product.
The collapse of world oil prices, along with the worldwide economic slowdown, has helped curb Russia's defense spending. The intelligence report says that the country faces its first recession in years and that its companies are about $450 billion in debt to Western financial institutions.
Closer to home, Blair said that the intelligence community continues to look for al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States and that the FBI is particularly interested in people with contacts with "militants in Pakistan's FATA," the area near the Afghanistan border.