Iran Stopped Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003, Report Says

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - A new intelligence report released on Monday says Iran apparently stopped developing nuclear weapons four years ago.

In 2005, U.S. intelligence experts said that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure." But on Monday, that same intelligence community said it was confident "that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program."

(The revised intelligence assessment is based on recent information, including a photograph taken during a media visit to Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, USA Today reported.)

The latest National Intelligence Estimate said Iran "is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," and it said Iran is continuing its efforts to enrich uranium.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the report makes it clear that the U.S. needs to keep up the pressure on Iran.

"On balance, the estimate is good news," Hadley said on Monday. "On one hand it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to insure that that does not happen. But it also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem."

According to the unclassified portion of the National Intelligence Estimate, Iran has the ability to eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to reverse course; and by continuing its attempt to enrich uranium, it is leaving that option open.

The report estimated that Iran would be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb sometime between 2010 and 2015.

Democrats pounce

According to a New York Times analysis published on Tuesday, "Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was one of the Democrats who -- in May 2006 -- requested the intelligence estimate on Iran to prevent President Bush from going to war with that country as he did with Iraq.

On Monday, Reid said the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) challenged "some of this administration's alarming rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran."

Said Reid, "We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran, and based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the NIE shows that international monitoring and targeted sanctions can be effective in preventing nuclear proliferation:

"While we should harbor no illusions about the intentions of some Iranian leaders, the new Iran NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall."

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich accused the "pro-war" Bush administration of "manipulating intelligence."

"The President and Vice President have been beating the war drums, and the House and the Senate have been dancing to that beat," Kucinich said in a news release."

Kucinich also criticized his fellow Demoratic presidential hopefuls for saying that "all options are on the table" when it comes to Iran. Given the new intelligence report, Kucinich said he would demand that the other candidates "explain their susceptibility to Bush's claims of Iranian nuclear threats."

"Why can't Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards recognize that their threatening statements and actions against Iran are not only naive and foolhardy, they are also diplomatically and militarily provocative?" Kucinich asked.

"Whatever those candidates say today, remember what they said before: Iran must be stopped at all cost. The fact that Iran stopped pursuing nuclear weaponry four years ago is more than an inconvenient revelation for those candidates. It's an indictment of their judgment and their qualifications to lead this nation."

Last year, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused President Bush of "downplaying" the threat of a nuclear Iran. "[W]e we must move as quickly as feasible for sanctions in the United Nations," Clinton said in a January 2006 speech at Princeton University.

On Monday, Clinton's campaign said the new intelligence assessment on Iran validates her push for diplomacy.

The National Intelligence Estimate reflects the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

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