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Iran Welcomes New US Intelligence on Nuclear Plans


Iran has welcomed the new U.S. intelligence estimate which suggests the Tehran government is not currently trying to develop nuclear weapons. VOA correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Iran welcomed the U.S. intelligence agencies' new assessment that Iran is no longer trying to build nuclear weapons.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate strengthen Iran's argument that its nuclear program is peaceful. Mottaki told state radio that Iran would welcome any countries wanting to "correct their views toward Iran."

Iranian officials did not address the intelligence report's finding that Iran was actively trying to build nuclear weapons before 2003.

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the intelligence report "should help to defuse the current crisis" over Iran's nuclear program. He called for swift negotiations to bring an end to the standoff between Iran and the West.

The United States, Britain and France have all said they remain concerned over Iran's intentions. They said further sanctions against Iran remain an option, and they want to keep pressure on the Iranian authorities.

Israel rejected the intelligence report outright, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying he believes it is "incomplete." He said he believes Iran has re-started its nuclear weapons program, although he offered no evidence to back his statement.

In Washington, President Bush called Iran a dangerous country and said there would be no change in U.S. policy. He called for continued international pressure to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Over the last two days in Qatar, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reached out to the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, at their annual summit. He was the first Iranian leader ever invited to attend the Arab group's annual meeting, but he received a muted response to his proposals for regional economic and security pacts.

The GCC leaders called for a peaceful solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

The prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, told reporters he had no inside information on the U.S. intelligence report's findings.

"We hope this is a peaceful program," he said. "It is Iran's right to possess a peaceful nuclear program." He said problems should be resolved through diplomacy and direct dialogue between the two sides.

The new National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its attempts to build a nuclear weapon in 2003 in response to international pressure. The report said U.S. intelligence agencies are "moderately confident" that Iran has not resumed its weapons program, but the report said intelligence agencies believe with moderate to high confidence that Tehran is keeping open the option of resuming weapons development.

The estimate is seen as a sharp change in the agencies' previous assessment of Iran. Analysts say it may make it harder for the United States and Europe to justify their efforts to impose further sanctions on Iran.