Five takeaways from leaked documents on Iran
November 29th, 2010
09:35 PM ET

Five takeaways from leaked documents on Iran

Iran and the approaches that governments are taking with the Islamic Republic are major topics in some of the sensitive U.S. diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks this week. The documents deal with, among other things, Iran's ties with North Korea and Arab states' concerns about their Persian neighbor. Here are five key things to know about the Iran-related documents and the effects of their release.


Whether North Korea has strengthened its ties with Iran and recently sold Iran its most powerful missiles depends on whether you believe U.S. intelligence or Russian intelligence.

In a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks and dated February 2010, U.S. officials tell their Russian counterparts that North Korea has sold Iran 19 advanced missiles based on Russian design and capable of hitting targets in Western Europe.

The cable says the Russians dismiss the U.S. intelligence reports and call them unreliable.

"There is no evidence for this and concealment of such a transfer would be impossible," the cable quotes a Russian official as saying.

"The fact is that there have been no successful tests of this missile in either North Korea or Iran."

The U.S. intelligence assessment that North Korea has sold Iran advanced missiles certainly grabs your attention, but at this point there is no evidence available to prove or disprove the claim. Therefore, any claim that North Korea has recently strengthened its ties with Iran and bolstered Iran’s military capability is conjecture.


Iran sees itself as a regional power with aspirations to be a world power, so it doesn’t like the perception that it’s an isolated nation with few friends in its own neighborhood in the Middle East.

That’s why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad downplayed leaked cables and called them worthless propaganda.

He called Iran’s Arab neighbors "friends and brothers."

But a look at the leaked cables depicts the Islamic Republic as a nation that's surrounded by Sunni-dominated nations with Arab leaders who are repeatedly pushing the U.S. to attack Iran.


There’s a lot of talk about military action against Iran in the leaked cables, but an attack against Iran doesn’t appear  imminent.

The most likely nation to launch an attack is Israel, which considers Iran an existential threat and Iran's nuclear program its top security priority. But even Israeli leaders have recently reined in their drumbeats of war.

Attacking Iran would be costly. Iran could hit back by attacking Israel and shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, through which an estimated 40 percent of the world's oil travels. Iran could further destabilize neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, something Washington can ill afford.

Attacking Iran could unify its hard-line leaders at a time when there are clear signs of rifts. Conservative Iranian lawmakers reportedly started a petition to impeach Ahmadinejad, but Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stepped in to halt the process.

Washington and its allies are also encouraged by the effect of the fourth round of sanctions against Iran, and their official position is still engagement and negotiations first.

An attack may not be imminent, but the option is not off the table. The leaked cables show many U.S. allies are convinced Iran is going after nuclear bombs and the only way to stop it is by force.


Iran and many of its Arab neighbors have diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes and throughout history, relations have often been far from friendly.

Iran’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is an example.

The sectarian divide has always set the stage for friction between the two nations that have long vied to be the top dog in the region. Saudi Arabia is dominated by Sunni Muslims. Iran is led by Shias.

Iranian hard-liners have never liked that a king rules Saudi Arabia. To the Islamic Republic, kings are un-Islamic. Iranian officials have also condemned Saudi Arabia for being Washington's ally. Iran has never forgotten that during the Iran-Iraq war, Saudi Arabia sided with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has long feared ambitions by Iran to expand its influence and establish itself as the dominant player in the region. The leaked cables show Saudi Arabia is also deeply concerned about Iran pursuing nuclear weapons.


The leaked diplomatic cables reveal very little new information about Iran's nuclear program or whether it is planning to build nuclear weapons.

International inspectors say Iran is now enriching a small amount of uranium at 20 percent for a medical research lab. The 20 percent purity level is well below the 90 percent necessary for making bombs.

There is also no evidence that Iran has the missile technology to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Even so, the United States and its allies say Iran's lack of transparency and its patterns of secrecy are evidence that Iran is indeed going after bombs. How long it would take Iran to make a bomb is in dispute, with estimates varying from one year to as many as five.

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Filed under: Iran • Iraq • Julian Assange • Saudi Arabia • WikiLeaks
soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. mjwilstein

    George W. Bush talked with Mark Zuckerberg about Wikileaks today:

    November 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      Oh, how I wish we had text to read about Bush going into Iraq...and the dialogue between Rumsfeld and Cheney. Oh, that would make fine reading. You know, WMD. right.

      November 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ram Rechanan

      These leaks are amazing – we want them focused more at major corrupt corporations and we need to know who are the heads that have been stealing our money and exporting it abroad for theft of land and construction of self and state interest deeds – this is amazing

      November 30, 2010 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Rudy P

      Why does it have to be the U.S that attacks them? So the middle east can call us devils and hate on us some more? Yeah the U.S does some shady things but playing nice with your neighbor then paying the guy down the road to come over and kick his butt isn't any better. Middle East has all the drama of a bunch of 16 year old girls.

      November 30, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Solano Sorenson

      "Anyone ever wonders who should be held accountable for 500,000 innocent Iraqi deaths? "

      While the US is responsible for bungling its invasion of Iraq and being a poor administrator, the accountability can also be shared with the Iraqis themselves, yes? In many cases it was Shiites attacking Sunnis and vice versa.

      The US should not have invaded Iraq because it removed Iran's biggest rival.

      November 30, 2010 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      @TruthSeeker: Not that I agree with the way that we are doing things as a species, but the aggressive expansion and conflict are keys to survival. The only way civilization can continue is through expansion.

      November 30, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Knightly Q. Blowguns

      I also read that one of the leaks indicates the Ayatollah has terminal cancer and only has a few months to live. Of course that report was written in August of 2009 so it may be inaccurate or the Ayatollah may simply have beat the odds for now. Or he's been cured by divine intervention, in which case maybe we should all look into Islam. 😉

      As strange as it sounds, the Ayatollah actually appears to be more moderate than Ahmedinejad and has far more power in Iran. On the other hand, Ahmedinejad might be the Ayatollah's bulldog, sort of like how Clinton is Obama's, allowing the real leader to appear peaceful and cooperative without appearing "weak." I've read that the Ayatollah's successor is actually even more moderate and has sympathized with the reformists. This could be a good thing.

      Not that we're going to become allies with Iran any time soon. Our government has given us plenty of reasons to hate Iran and we've taken those "lessons" to heart; if you don't believe me, read the other comments here. We have powerful and close allies that hate Iran: we will not trade Israel and Saudi Arabia for Iran, period. That has nothing to do with ideology, that's just strategy and reality. At the very least, a change of power in Iran might shift them neutral enough that they'll fall off our radar.

      That's our best hope at peace... assuming we are hoping for peace.

      November 30, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Justin Remark

      I am so happy and cannot wait to see how badly this will affect democrats. Hillary possibly to resign already? This was bigger than I ever thought.

      November 30, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian Templeton

      From what department were the cables leaked and what legislation requires that our elected and non-elected officials make a report about gossip and hearsay or their own opinions of foreign and domestic relations?

      November 30, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Iraq got anal probed for WMD's... What was Osama Bin Laden and the other terrorists thinking would happen???

      November 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete Rose

      Is Iran a country? Is it part of Mexico?

      November 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • USAHunterNRAMember

      what they dont say is that oman and qatar amb's say ahmadenijad is not corrupt but the supreme leader's likely successor is, and he will be worse, and dismiss ahmadenijad. and the elections were indeed fake. talk about a twist

      November 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • PetePeterPete...I forgot!

      ...Justin Remark...I don't like to call anyone "stupid" for expressing their views. In your case I make an exception. Your comment (even though it reflects how you feel) tells me that you are certainly STUPID and deserve this comment. Instead of wishing our leaders [whether you voted for them or not (this is a democracy)] the best in their necessary dealings in a very complex and dangerous world, you wish them ill fortune! That is the same as wishing the US ill fortune. What a sick azz!

      November 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      bush is a moron and incapable of talking to anyone about anything. granted palin is the bigger moron but none the less they are in the same league.

      November 30, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. happypirate

    Iran is down playing this ........... because they are scare shipless, Iran is NOW worried more than ever about coming war, the world is ut to get you!!! We are coming.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keksi

      You mean like you YOU is coming???

      November 29, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      Who is coming? We need to get every swinging American dick out of the middle east NOW!!!

      November 29, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • marconi darwin

      You bet they are scared that you and your buddies are coming.

      You must be a Palin supporter

      November 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      You mean that lessons have not been learned in Vietnam, Iran, etc? It would be a quagmire. Let the bloody neighbors complaining over there do the deed, why always Britain, Canada, USA, etc.? Let them act.

      November 29, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Carter

      You've got it wrong. Iran is not scared shipless, they are scared shiite-less.

      November 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • mom


      November 29, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chettahe

      If you are so inclined towards war with Iran, get your own guns and your own friends and go to their borders and start your own war. Please do not involve the poor souls who get into the US armed forces to defend our homeland to fight your war.

      November 30, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • UTLonghorn

      "International inspectors say Iran is now enriching a small amount of uranium at 20 percent for a medical research lab. The 20 percent purity level is well below the 90 percent necessary for making bombs"
      So the reason you want to attack them is ........DRUM ROLL.........THEY ARE ENRICHING URANIUM FOR MEDICAL REAEARCH .. LET ME SEE HOW CAN YOU TWIST THAT TO WMD

      November 30, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Beauseafus

      @Jon yeah cause Canada is always flexing their military presence

      November 30, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      Blah, blah, blah.... I've been hearing this "Oh Israel is going to take them out soon" or "we are going to take them out soon" for over two years. You need to get out of your mom's basement with your misplaced bluster.

      November 30, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Chauncey

      Beauseafus, "Canada is always flexing their military presence"? As a Canadian, I have to laugh at your remark. It's a well-known fact that we have the finest peace-keeping troops in the world! Whenever peace breaks out, you can be sure the Canadians will be sent in en masse. 🙂
      But "...flexing their military presence"? We are the mouse and the U.S. is the elephant.

      November 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • PetePeterPete...I forgot!

      Silly, little kid!

      November 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. olookamistake

    Spelling error in the first sentence. FAIL.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • drNO

      I have a got a song for you guys.. Pants on the ground..

      November 30, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. happypirate

    Anyne know a good war song, .... let's all start singing, Obama and the Military need another war, Kaboom

    November 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      Let's have a war by a perfect circle.

      November 30, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. happypirate

    the funny part of this is ........... we are in the wrong war, ..... not Afghanistan or Iraq,
    Iran and Morth Korea, ............ China does not like NK and Middle East does not like Iran and taliban either, all Irans doing.
    Saudi's support terrorism just as much, make it the downtown Grand Tour, poof, all of them

    November 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • TriB

      And so many seem to forget that one "nuke" eventually kills us all.

      November 29, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. whybs

    WikiLeaks basically exposes the fact that everyone beats off! 🙂

    November 29, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rags


    November 29, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hmmm

    To me this more of an attack on Iran's policies than an actual aritcle. This journalist is good at getting info, and bad at keeping it neutral. Interesting perceptions though.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sbk8543

      This article merely repeats what the leaked report is saying, nothing else.

      November 30, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • TeaBagBallSac

      Yeah, this is nothing like corporate propaganda....

      November 30, 2010 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ram

    This is stupid. Iran is a sunni dominated nation. All of its neighbours are shiite nations. no wonder there is animosity. Another war mongering tactic.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • muhrvis

      No, Iran is a Shiite Muslim dominated nation. Iraq is also "dominated" by Shiite Muslims, now that the minority dictatorship of Saddam is gone.

      November 29, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve harnack

      You have it backwards but yes, as a reason for us to go to war it is laughable.

      November 29, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ram Rechanan

      Ram what have u been drinking buddy – its funny when one of my country men wants to discuss politics or opinion – its the opposite buddy – Iran is shiiah and the Arabs are mainly sunnah – so funny

      November 30, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • PetePeterPete...I forgot!

      Religions are stupid. Theirs competing for top honors. Seems to be a religion of jealousy.

      November 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chris

    Arab-Persian animosity is nothing new. They've hated each other for the better part of 1400 years ever since the Sunni-Shia split.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Marwan

    Well good bye CNN; I am tired of biased reports and these Wiki Leaks crap. China daily reports better with objective analysis these days!

    November 29, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frankie

      See ya,
      Have fun reading propaganda burped out by a ginormous nation of human rights-violators.

      November 30, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Awake Now

      As a Media Watchdog, I have suspected for some time that CNN has developed an agenda other than news reporting. Yesterday, when the Wikileaks site was still up, I spent an entire day studying the material. Then, I began to read CNN's coverage of the cables. I urge you all to do the same when Wikileaks' site is restored, and judge for yourselves. CNN's selective focus is very eye opening.

      CNN has outed itself as a biased media source, and it has exposed itself to the world as a blowhorn for Israel. And there is no going back from that. Once we know something, we can never "not know it" again...

      November 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. purepropaganda

    Wikileaks is a clever propaganda stunt, it reveals nothing we didn't know already and further pushes the current agenda. Mainstream media is discredited so now the dis-info is put out by this controlled opposition wikileaks.

    Ahmadinejad is spot on.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • afarin

      completely agree with you. this is all propaganda. mainstream media is still pushing their agenda with wikileaks, and it just depends if people choose to believe it or be ignorant

      November 30, 2010 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. Al Beritebak

    It'll probably go something like this in the end: The US will provide Israel the means to destroy all nuclear sites in Iran (they already got delivery of a dozen or so bunker-buster bombs towards the end of the recent Israel-Hezbollah war, those would be enough), and it will inform the Arab countries ahead of time what's going to happen. That way, the US isn't openly involved, and the Arab countries can pretend to be indignant and outraged "but what can we do, we all know Israel has nukes". An Iran-Israel war will follow, Israel being supported by the US with arms as always, until Iran is returned to a pre-nuclear condition, maybe with a change of leadership. The Russians will stay out of it, or at least not help Iran enough to win the fight, because really no one wants Iran to have nukes except Iran. I have to laugh when Ahmadinejad talks about Arabs being his "friends and brothers". I've seen first-hand what happens to brothers in the Arab world. When an Arab tells you that you are like a brother to him, it's time to worry.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Awesome reply! Thank you.

      November 30, 2010 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      And then it didn't happen. TADA! What else that's not going to happen can your poignant imagination conjure up?

      November 30, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert Agopian

    When are we going to realize and accept the fact of the matter that other countries and culture do not evaluate situation the way the US does. We're giving Iran more credit then they deserve. Something must be done before it's tool late folks. The world would be a safer place without Ahmadinejad, his crooked outlook on several issues and his administration alike. When George W. Bush said that Iran and North Korea where part of the axis of evil, the media jumped all over him – what does the media has to say today after, slowly but surely witnessing the true colors of these two nations? The media cannot handle the truth folks and never will.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • davetharave

      'W' may not have been right about much but he was spot-on in assessing Iran – NK.

      November 29, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • samsom street

      Dude, lumping Iran and DPRK under the same moniker is like saying New York and Trenton are the same because they are northeastern cities. Or that Glenn Beck and William F Buckley are the same because they are/were both on TV espousing conservatism.

      Iran is highly educated and westernized regardless of the problems their president presents. DPRK is goose-stepping madness and PITCH BLACK. Mechanized starvation that rivals any concentration camp, except its an entire nation.

      Not disrespecting Bush's take or seeking to minimize the obvious terror issues depicted, just stating the obvious that a megalomaniacal leader is about the only thing they share in common. Bush would have been wise to make it about the leaders and be more careful about feeding feeble American intellects with inflammatory rhetoric. I am American and proud of it but am often not proud of the low brow position we've staked out i.e. Glenn Beck, Bill Mahr and other half-wit talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum.

      November 30, 2010 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      @dave: Bush wasn't right on anything.

      November 30, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. McJesus

    Armchair generals. Sipping Schlitz beer staring at their plasma screen set up next to their shopping network knife collection and TV wrestling video library. 300lb behind sitting on a torn up couch in a rundown trailer house. The US can't afford any more wars. The middle east doesn't need any more wars. The US has been spewing pro-war propaganda for a long time now and it is unquestioningly repeated by the news media. The beast which is Iran is a beast created by US mistakes and involvement. Learn some history. The US is as much at fault for the situation in the middle east as the middle east is. The US prefers a divided and unstable middle east. A united middle east is FAR more dangerous to US power than a united middle east. Think about it for a few minutes. Then think about the US' part in maintaining the current status quo.

    November 29, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truth Seeker

      You are right on the money. You must be from middle east to know this, because most people don't know and can't due to lack of information transparency. The US is hungry and broke now, and that can make it dangerous for starting wars and
      to sell more arms to all side or trade energy for protection, Mafia style on a global scale.

      November 30, 2010 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • samsom street

      "Learn some history."
      Hey McJesus maybe you ought to look into that a bit yourself. USA is 250 years old and Persia is thousands. All politics and hard opinions aside, your assertion that we "made them" is incorrect by any reasonable standard. Sure, we put the Shah in there – that was definitely our work – but Persia removed our work and now they rule themselves again – albeit badly at times but hardly a creation of USA.

      November 30, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Goingrover

      The control the US has administered over the Middle East became great when the Afghan Mujihiddin(SP?) was backed by the US in the 80's against the present day Russia. We gave these men guns to protect their homeland and to fight and kill Russians. This back fired. We gave the predeccesors of Osama the weapons that now lure the soldiers into strategically placed bombs. As this ill fated war continues, Israel and Palestine continue to fight. What should be violating all sorts of human rights laws is barely even noted. Also, how do we expect countries to feel "equal" when one nation has Nukes and the other nations barely have proper machine guns. Our perception of what is happening in the Middle East is quite skewed. A proper understanding only comes from education on the past and present state. The article clearly gives one of the main reasons Iran is not invaded, 40% of the worls oil moving through one water way, a pretty powerful tool. Just my two cents.

      November 30, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
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