A newly released US intelligence document says Iran stopped nuclear weapons development four years ago, but is keeping its options open. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports White House officials say the new National Intelligence Estimate shows the need for continued pressure on Tehran.
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran says Tehran halted a secret nuclear weapons program in late 2003. It says as of mid-2007, the work had not resumed.
The document is at odds with an earlier assessment of Iran's nuclear capabilities and aspirations conducted in 2005. The earlier estimate, which represents the highest collective judgments of the U.S. intelligence community, said Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons. The new estimate says Tehran is less determined to produce nuclear weapons than earlier believed.
All the same, the Bush administration says the 2007 report contains plenty of reason to remain concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says it confirms the existence of an earlier secret nuclear arms development program. He says at the same time, this National Intelligence Estimate shows Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium in defiance of international calls to suspend, and could produce enough for a bomb as soon as late 2009.
"We need to keep the halting of the nuclear weapons program in place," Hadley said. "We need to achieve the suspension of the enrichment program. And what this NIE says is the best way to do that is to do what we have been doing, which is diplomatic isolation, UN sanctions and other financial pressures, plus the option for negotiations."
Hadley says Iran's intentions remain unclear, noting it was conducting a secret nuclear arms development program at a time it was assuring the world community no such work was taking place.
The White House national security adviser says the mere fact that Iran halted the program in 2003 shows that international pressure can work. He says those who favor a softer approach are wrong.
"If we are to avoid the grim choice between accepting an Iran on the path to nuclear weapons or considering the use of force, we need to intensify our pressure on Iran, while making clear if they do suspend enrichment, there is an opportunity for better relations with the international community," Hadley said.
The U.S. intelligence community puts together these estimates of foreign activities and threats from time to time. Most are not released to the public. But officials felt that with a heated debate now under way on Iran policy, this information should be declassified.
It also comes at a time when the United States is trying to win support from the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for a new round of sanctions on Iran.
President Bush has warned in recent weeks that the world cannot run the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, saying that could lead to World War III.
Iran has insisted that it only seeks to develop nuclear energy for peaceful, non-military use. But the Bush administration has pointed to its threats against Israel as a sign Tehran cannot be trusted.