Leaked Cables Contain Surprising Details About Iran

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The website WikiLeaks released 250,000 previously secret diplomatic communications. David Sanger of The New York Times had an advance look at diplomatic cables relating to Iran. He talks to Renee Montagne about the importance of the leaked cables and what they say about Iran.


Now that WikiLeaks has again released secret documents - this time a quarter of a million diplomatic exchanges - let's focus on what's being revealed about one of America's major diplomatic efforts.

David Sanger, of the New York Times, had an advanced look at the diplomatic cables relating to Iran.

Good morning.

Mr. DAVID SANGER (Reporter, New York Times): Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good. What did you learn about the effort to restrain Iran's nuclear program when you looked over these diplomatic exchanges?

Mr. SANGER: Well, with my colleagues Jim Glanz and Joe Becker, we had a chance to go through a lot of the cables that were related to Iran. And I think two or three things stood out. The first is that Arab leaders from around the Persian Gulf were as concerned, if not more concerned about the prospect of a nuclear Iran than, say, Israel is.

I think the second thing that we learned was that in their private conversations with the United States, some of them were coming right up to the edge of urging military action, which seemed to be much - go far beyond anything that they had ever said in public.

MONTAGNE: And urging military action by the U.S. against Iran.

Mr. SANGER: Well, either by the U.S. or - they were never quite that specific. But the suggestion seemed to be the U.S.

I think one of the other big things that we learned was that American intelligence community believed that Iran obtained 19 medium-to-long-range missiles from North Korea that would allow them to ultimately reach, say, Berlin on the European side, Moscow in the other direction.

They, of course - we do not believe that Iran yet has a nuclear weapon, and certainly not one that could fit atop the warhead of one of these missiles. But it does give a more sobering sense of how quickly their missile capability has developed.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you say, most people might be surprised that Arab nations were so concerned - you know, and you're talking about what they were saying. But why would they be so concerned? Because they were - these medium-term missiles could be aimed at them?

Mr. SANGER: Right. They're concerned about the missile ranges. But their bigger concern is that, to their mind, an Iran that has a nuclear weapon would seek to dominate the region again. And remember, this goes to the Sunni-Shia divide. Most of these Arab states are Sunni nations. Iran, of course, is Shia. And their biggest concerned is that Iran would rise as the greatest power in the Middle East again.


Mr. SANGER: And that's a challenge to the Saudis, to the Egyptians, to smaller countries like the UAE and Bahrain, all of whose leaders you hear from in these cables.

MONTAGNE: Now, do these cables change your understanding of the Obama administration's efforts to contain Iran?

Mr. SANGER: You know, I think something that comes out of it is that the Obama administration's effort has been far more focused than the Bush administration's effort was. I think that President Bush was so tied up with dealing with the Iraq war and - at the end of his term - the surge, that they never put the kind of focus into containing Iran that President Obama has clearly attempted.

Now, that doesn't mean that the sanctions that have gone into effect or the anti-missile defenses that have been put around the region - many of which started under the Bush administration - will necessarily prove effective at changing Iran's strategic calculus.

But it is impressive to see that from the very first months that they came into office, they really did focus very heavily on this diplomacy and got some results.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

Mr. SANGER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's David Sanger of the New York Times: one of the journalists given an advanced look at the cache of documents released by WikiLeaks.

Today, Iran's president insisted Iran and its neighbors were all, quote, "friends." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brushed off the WikiLeaks as mischief by the U.S. aimed at hurting those relationships.

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