A major U.S. intelligence review has concluded that Iran stopped work on a suspected nuclear weapons program more than four years ago, a stark reversal of previous intelligence assessments that Iran was actively moving toward a bomb.
The new findings, drawn from a consensus National Intelligence Estimate, reflected a surprising shift in the midst of the Bush administration's continuing political and diplomatic campaign to depict Tehran's nuclear development as a grave threat. The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended.
"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," a declassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate stated. Two years ago, the intelligence community said in contrast it had "high confidence that Iran currently is determined to have nuclear weapons."
The new estimate, prepared by the nation's 16 intelligence agencies, applied the same "high confidence" label to a judgment that suspected Iranian military efforts to build a nuclear weapon were suspended in 2003 and said with "moderate confidence" that it had remained inactive since then.
Even if Iran were to restart its program now, the country probably could not produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single weapon before the middle of the next decade, the assessment stated. It also expressed doubt about whether Iran "currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."
A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy
President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.
The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.
Meanwhile, how outrageous is it that the best twelve months of alarmism from Bush & Cheney have come in the context of an environment where they've long had access to the intelligence community's assessment? Answer: Very outrageous.