White House admits sketchy intel on Iran

The White House acknowledged on Sunday the difficulty of gathering good intelligence in Iran but said Tehran’s behavior was “suspicious enough” to warrant stepping up pressure over its nuclear program.

“Intelligence in Iran is hard to come by. It is a very closed society. They keep their secrets very well,” White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Hadley was asked whether, given the intelligence failures in pre-war Iraq, he was convinced that U.S. intelligence in Iran was good enough to declare that it was developing a nuclear bomb.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Hadley also cautioned the Iranian government against taking comfort in President Bush’s decision to back Europe in offering limited economic incentives to Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear arms program.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also appeared on the Sunday news shows, said the decision sends a message to Tehran that it now faces a united trans-Atlantic front.

After weeks of friction with Russia over its involvement in nuclear projects in Iran, Rice said Moscow’s deal to take back all spent nuclear fuel from Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr power plant “demonstrated, we believe, that they (the Russians) also do not believe that the Iranians should have this kind of activity.”

In return for U.S. support for incentives, Britain, France and Germany said they would haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council if it resumed uranium enrichment and nuclear reprocessing activities, which could be used to develop an atomic bomb.

“I do not think that the Iranian regime can take much comfort in this, because, as part of this arrangement, the Europeans now for the first time are talking about Iranian support to terror and the need for this Iranian regime to listen to their people and to give them a greater role in the political process,” Hadley said.

Rice set no deadline for the negotiations but said, “Everybody understands that there has to be a permanent arrangement in which the Iranians forgo the means by which to develop nuclear weapons, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

The U.S. intelligence community faces major credibility problems after reporting that pre-war Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear arms. The assertions were a main justification for the 2003 U.S. invasion but no such weapons have been found.

Hadley defended U.S. nuclear charges against Iran, citing the way it hid its uranium enrichment program and other activities from international inspectors.

“The failure to disclose and the lack of compliance with their (international) agreements raises serious suspicions, in not only our mind, but in the Europeans’ mind,” Hadley said.

“Their behavior has been suspicious enough that not only the United States but also the Europeans are concerned and think we need some guarantees … that are clear that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon capability,” he added.

His comments come less than a week after The New York Times reported that a presidential commission investigating pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s weapons has concluded that U.S. data on Iran’s arms is “inadequate.”