NIE on Iran: No nuclear weapons program

Intelligence community has high confidence that Tehran stopped its weapons program in 2003.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 3, 2007 6:21PM (EST)

George W. Bush said recently that the key to preventing World War III is blocking Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Dick Cheney followed up by saying that it's "very, very important" that the United States succeed in "our national security efforts to discourage the Iranians from enriching uranium and producing nuclear weapons."

Mission accomplished!

According to the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that "Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program" in the fall of 2003. While the intelligence community has "moderate-to-high confidence" that Tehran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," it also has "moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon." "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," the NIE says. "Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously."

Does this mean the Bush administration's recent saber-rattling on Iran missed the point? Or, say, that Bush's energy secretary was wrong when he said of the Iranians last month, "We are convinced that they are developing nuclear weapons."

Of course not.

The response from the White House so far: While the NIE offers "some positive news," it also "tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem" and suggests that the United States and the international community should turn up the heat further. "The bottom line is this: for [the president's] 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."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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