U.S. report clears Iran on N-weapons
American intelligence agencies undercut White House plan on Tehran
Washington: American intelligence agencies undercut the White House on Monday by disclosing that Iran has not been pursuing a nuclear weapons development programme for the last four years.
The disclosure makes it harder for President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney to make a case for a military strike against Iran. It also makes it more difficult to persuade countries such as Russia and China to join the U.S., Britain and France in imposing a new round of sanctions on Tehran.
The National Security Estimate, which pulls together the work of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, on Monday published a declassified report revising previous assessments of Iran’s weapons programme.
“Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons programme suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005,” it said.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have been claiming that Tehran is bent on achieving a nuclear weapon.
The British government, which is planning to discuss the report with its U.S. counterparts over the next few days, has also repeatedly said it suspects Iran of seeking a nuclear weapons capability.
The U.S. National Security Estimate disclosed that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 and had not restarted it. Two years ago, the estimate reached a different conclusion, saying Iran was still developing its nuclear weapons programme.
The White House continued to claim on Monday that Iran remains a threat to the region and the world as a whole.
Although a halt to nuclear weapons development is significant, the National Security Estimate is far from a clean bill of health for Iran. The country is pushing ahead with its uranium enrichment programme, which has only limited civilian use and could be quickly converted to nuclear military use. The intelligence estimate warned that Iran could secure a nuclear weapon by 2010. The U.S. State Department’s intelligence and research office says the more likely timescale would be 2013. All the agencies concede that Iran may not have enough enriched uranium until after 2015.
Referring to Iran’s decision to halt the military programme in the autumn of 2003, Stephen Hadley, the White House National Security Adviser, said: “Today’s national intelligence estimate offers some positive news. It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen.
Mr. Hadley said the White House would continue to try to intensify international pressure on Iran.
Russia and China, two of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have scuppered attempts by the U.S. over the last six months to impose tough new sanctions on Iran.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney stepped up rhetoric against Iran this year. Mr. Bush said in October: “If you’re interested in avoiding world war III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” The decision to publish the national intelligence estimate is aimed at trying to recover the public credibility lost when the agencies wrongly claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the years running up to 2003. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007
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