Intel report: Iran halted nuclear weapons work in 2003
(Update: National security adviser: 'We were right' to be worried about Iranian nuclear ambition)
A new US intelligence report indicates that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program four years ago -- but the White House on Monday nevertheless urged global powers to "turn up the pressure" on the country.
Newly declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate find that Iran abandoned its nuclear program in the fall of 2003 and does not currently possess a nuclear weapon. The country is still enriching uranium, however, and could still develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015, according to senior intelligence officials.
White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley stated on Monday that the findings suggested that the US strategy of isolating Iran diplomatically while pursuing negotiations was working.
"The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed, the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran -- with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions, and with other financial pressure -- and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution," said Hadley.
In a Monday afternoon briefing with reporters, Hadley added that the estimate was "good news" and said it proved that the White House had been right to fear Iranian nuclear ambition.
"On one hand it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons," said Hadley. "On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen."
Asked if the report would undercut the Bush administration's efforts to build an international coalition to continue sanctions against the country, Hadley warned that Iran still had its eye on obtaining weapons-grade nuclear uranium.
"I think there is going to be a tendency for a lot of people to say 'the problem is less bad than we thought, let's relax' and I think our view is that would be a mistake," he said, adding that Iran's continued uranium enrichment was its "path" to obtaining nuclear weapons.
The new NIE represents a change from two years ago, when US intelligence agencies believed Tehran was determined to develop a nuclear capability and was continuing its weapons development program. A 2005 report stated that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure."
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," states the summary of the new NIE.
Despite the suspension of its weapons program, Tehran may ultimately be difficult to dissuade from developing a nuclear bomb because Iran believes such a weapon would give it leverage to achieve its national security and foreign policy goals, the assessment suggests.
To develop a nuclear weapon, Iran needs a warhead design, a certain amount of fissile material, and a delivery vehicle such as a missile. The intelligence agencies now believe Iran halted design work four years ago and as of mid-2007 had not restarted it.
But Iran is continuing to enrich uranium for its civilian nuclear reactors. That leaves open the possibility the fissile material could be diverted to covert nuclear sites to make enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb.
"We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely," the report concludes. "A more likely time frame for that production is between 2010 and 2015..."
The summary also assesses "with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons...Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military cost."
Hadley was asked reporters if the new NIE revelations would impact the credibility of the Bush administration on Iran and other perceived threats to the US.
"You know, these are not puzzles that once you solve them you solve them for all time," he responded. "These are challenges that are ongoing against very hard targets that lie, that try and prevent things from becoming public...The answer is, in some sense, welcome to the real world."
The declassified NIE summary is available in pdf here.
(with wire reports)
This video is from CNN's Your World Today, broadcast on December 3, 2007.