U.S. intel preparing grim assessment on Iran


A draft intelligence report portrays a bleak political situation in Iran, anticipating little progress in getting Tehran to halt its nuclear program or stop supporting militant groups in the region, U.S. officials said today.

The latest in a series of reports from the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is nearly complete and could be shared with President Bush and other policymakers within weeks, said officials familiar with the report, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been released. The report is expected to be completed as soon as next week, one official said.

It is one of three reports the intelligence community is wrapping up on the Persian Gulf. Another looks at Iran's nuclear program. And an update on the situation in Iraq is to be released today.

The report on Iran's political situation looks at issues ranging from the economy to its weapons programs, the officials said.

It concludes that Iran will continue to pursue a nuclear program that the United States and others believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, the officials said. Tehran denies that and says the program is for power generation.

Addressing the second most visible dispute between Washington and Tehran, the report also says Iran will continue to cause problems in Iraq, the officials said.

The U.S. government alleges that elements of Tehran's military are equipping and training militias involved in sectarian killings, roadside bombings of U.S. troops and other violence in Iraq &

allegations that Iran denies.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met in Baghdad early this month with his counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on the subject. Though it was the third round of U.S.-Iranian security talks in just over two months, officials have reported no progress.

U.S. officials and others also have criticized Iran for supplying money and weapons to the Shiite Muslim extremist group Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. government list of terrorist organizations.

The new intelligence estimate foresees that Iran will continue as a main backer of the group, along with Syria, the officials said.

It also indicates no regime change in Iran appears on the near horizon &

that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will continue in his position despite popular anger over the country's economic problems.

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently replaced Iran's key oil and industry ministers in a move seen as his attempt to increase control over industries that are the source of most of the country's revenues. Ahmadinejad was elected on a populist agenda in 2005, promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. His failure to keep those promises has provoked increasingly fierce criticism from both conservatives and reformists in recent months.

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