U.S. diplomatic cables reveal nuclear proliferation fears

The WikiLeaks cables have revealed that the United States has consistently rebuffed private appeals from the leaders of Arab states and Israel on the need for military action against Iran over its nuclear program, as successive administrations worked on a package of global economic sanctions.

The initial leak of 240 U.S. diplomatic cables from a total 251,000 provided to five newspapers in the UK, US, Germany, France and Spain contained the following information related to nuclear non-proliferation issues:


The leaks have made public the private level of concern in many countries about the prospects of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the US in 1998 to “cut off the head of the snake.” More recently, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt have described Iran variously as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”. Other Gulf nations such as Bahrain and Jordan have expressed concerns to the United States. One French senior diplomatic adviser last September described Iran as a “fascist state”. The overall picture shows Iran’s isolation in the region regarding its nuclear ambitions. However the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, told the French defense minister last February, according to a cable, that military action “would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.”


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is quoted in one cable dated June 2009 as saying that any military attack on Iran after 2010 would result in “unacceptable collateral damage.” A cable dated November 2009 after a meeting between U.S. and Israeli officials also discussed the sale of U.S. GBU-28 “bunker-busting” bombs to Israel. The cable suggested that the transfer be handled quietly so as to avoid accusations that Israel was preparing to strike against Iran. The WikiLeaks revelations about Arab concerns over the Iranian nuclear program were warmly received in Israel, where President Shimon Peres said that the Arab countries know they have an enemy “and it’s not Israel.”

North Korea

Iran has apparently obtained 19 missiles from North Korea capable of attacking Europe. The Russian-based design is far more complex than anything publicly acknowledged by the United States. The advanced missiles are believed to be capable of holding a nuclear warhead. The range of the BM-25 missiles is believed to be around 4,000 kilometers, putting Berlin within range. Until now, Iran has tested the Shahab-3 missile with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers. Russia, however, has remained skeptical that Iran had obtained the missiles from North Korea, according to a classified cable dated February 24th in which a Russian official told visiting US State department officials: “For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile.”

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has claimed that the leaks are part of a psychological war being waged against his country by America. Ahmadinejad stated that “This info is not leaked. This is systematically released for political purposes. This is more like psychological warfare. Has no legal value…people are well-informed these days and these games will not affect relations.”


Iran withheld from the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed plans of its Fordow nuclear reactor near Qom, according to a cable which recorded a conversation on November 10 at IAEA headquarters in Vienna with two staffers from the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The existence of the site was made public by the leaders of the U.S., UK and France during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, in September 2009.


WikiLeaks has revealed that since 2007 America has made unsuccessful secret attempts to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research facility. In May 2009 Pakistan refused to schedule a visit to the nuclear facilities by American experts claiming that it would look as though America was trying to steal the country’s nuclear weapons. The reports suggest that there are grave concerns in London and Washington over the future of the country whose fragile democratically-elected government is fighting radical Islamic extremists. Pakistan first obtained a nuclear weapon in 1987 and is believed to hold 24-48 HEU-based nuclear warheads and possess the nuclear material to build further weapons should the need arise.

Tactical nuclear weapons

During a conversation in November 2009 in Berlin, a senior US State department official asked the German chancellor’s national security adviser how the government planned to take forward the coalition agreement to seek the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany.   A total estimated 200 B-61 gravity bombs are deployed in five European countries – Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey.

According to the U.S. ambassador’s cable, the U.S. official was told that the decision had been “forced upon them” by the German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle. The German official made the point that it made no sense to unilaterally withdraw “the 20” tactical nuclear weapons in Germany while Russia maintains “thousands” of them. The U.S. official said that the consequences of such action needed to be thought through before proceeding, for example: “a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany and perhaps from Belgium and the Netherlands could make it very difficult politically for Turkey to maintain its own stockpile, even though it was still convinced of the need to do so.” A second cable from the U.S. embassy in Brussels, dated November 2009, mentions that Belgium rejected a proposal to join with the Netherlands, Italy and Germany to advocate the removal of the tactical weapons from their soil. It was the first time Italy has been mentioned as a member of the so-called “German camp”.


Further reading:

Cablegate adds to pressure on Iran, by Anne Penketh, BASIC Program Director, November 29, 2010


U.S. should not be in a standoff with Pakistan over HEU, by Jeffrey Lewis, November 2010



NATO condemns WikiLeaks for information about U.S. tactical nukes in Europe, Slobodan Lekic, The Associated Press, November 30, 2010


Experts question North Korea-Iran missile link from WikiLeaks document release, John Pomfret and Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, December 1, 2010
Total number of US tactical nuclear weapons is 180: Wikileaks

Hans Kristensen, FAS Strategic Security Blog, http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2010/12/tacnukes.php

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