HYPING THE THREAT. Yesterday, David Albright and Corey Hinderstein of the Institute for Science and International Security reported (PDF) that US officials sought to hype the Iranian nuclear threat following a closed International Atomic Energy Agency briefing to Security Council members.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) privately briefed permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in mid-March that Iran was almost ready to start putting uranium gas into a group of 164 centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment site. Iran is now on the verge of mastering a critical step in building and operating a gas centrifuge plant that would be able to produce significant quantities of enriched uranium for either peaceful or military purposes. However, Iran can be expected to face serious technical hurdles before it can produce significant quantities of enriched uranium.

Following the briefing, anonymous US officials quickly started to distort what the IAEA had said. These officials told journalists on a not for attribution basis that this action by Iran represented a significant acceleration of its enrichment program. US officials called several journalists to tell them that in the briefing IAEA officials were �shocked,� �astonished,� �blown-away� by Iran�s progress on gas centrifuges, leading the United States to revise its own timeline for Iran to get the bomb. In fact, IAEA officials have said they were not surprised by Iran�s actions. Although Iran�s pace is troubling and requires concerted diplomatic effort to reverse, it was also anticipated by other experts, including those at ISIS A senior IAEA official told the Associated Press that these US statements came �from people who are seeking a crisis, not a solution.�

Secretary Rice will travel to Berlin on Thursday to meet with her P5 foreign minister counterparts to talk about Iran. Part of her challenge there is to convince Russia that the US does not seek a military solution to Iran�s nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile, Great Britain is constantly fending off accusations that it is once again enabling American belligerence, a la Iraq. In London today Jack Straw told reporters, "As to the possibility of this leading to another Iraq, it won�t. I have made clear often enough that I don�t regard military action as appropriate or indeed conceivable."

Frankly, when a report like this comes out, it�s not difficult to see how someone might get that impression.

--Mark Leon Goldberg