US: Iran stopped nuclear arms program in 2003

Israeli, American concern over Teheran not alleviated.

iran nuclear good 298 ap (photo credit: AP Photo/IKONOS satellite image courtesy of GeoEye)
iran nuclear good 298 ap
(photo credit: AP Photo/IKONOS satellite image courtesy of GeoEye)
A new US intelligence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but continues to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, has not lessened Israeli concerns, since enriched uranium can be used both for civilian and military purposes, Israeli government officials said Monday night. According to the report, Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003 under international pressure but is continuing to enrich uranium. That means it may still be able to develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015, senior US intelligence officials said Monday. That finding, in a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, is a change from two years ago, when US intelligence agencies believed Teheran was determined to develop a nuclear capability and was continuing its weapons development program. It suggests that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic pressure, the officials said. "Teheran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," states the unclassified summary of the secret report, released Monday. An Israeli government official, who said the US showed Israel the intelligence estimate in advance, said there was enough evidence in it to "factually support our most grave concerns about the Iranian nuclear program." According to the official, the report said Iran did have a military nuclear program up until 2003, at a time when the country had a more moderate president than its current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though they vociferously denied a nuclear weapons program at the time. "This just shows they were lying all along," the official said. At the White House, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the findings confirm that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains "a serious problem." He said the administration has been trying to solve the Iranian nuclear dilemma without using force, and "the estimate offers hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically. "It suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests, while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear-armed Iran." "The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed," Hadley added, "the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions and with other financial pressures, and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution." The halt in active weapons development is one of the key assessments of the latest intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear program. National Intelligence Estimates represent the most authoritative written judgments of all 16 US spy agencies. Despite the suspension of its weapons program, Teheran may ultimately be difficult to dissuade from developing a nuclear bomb because Iran believes such a weapon would give it leverage to achieve its national security and foreign policy goals, the assessment concluded. National Intelligence director Mike McConnell decided last month that the key judgments of National Intelligence Estimates should as a rule not be declassified and released. The intelligence officials said an exception was made in this case because the last assessment of Iran's nuclear program in 2005 has been influential in public debate about US policy toward Iran and needed to be updated to reflect the latest findings. To develop a nuclear weapon Iran needs a warhead design, a certain amount of fissile material and a delivery vehicle such as a missile. The intelligence agencies now believe Iran halted design work four years ago and as of mid-2007 had not restarted it. But Iran is continuing to enrich uranium for its civilian nuclear reactors. That leaves open the possibility the fissile material could be diverted to covert nuclear sites to make enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb. The amount of fissile material Iran has is closely linked to when it can produce a weapon. Estimates for when Iran would achieve that goal range within the intelligence community from 2010 to 2015. Iran would not be capable of technically producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015, the report states. But ultimately it has the technical and industrial capacity to build a bomb, "if it decides to do so," the intelligence agencies found. This national intelligence estimate was originally due in the spring of 2007 but was delayed because the agencies wanted more confidence their findings were accurate, given the problems with a 2002 intelligence estimate of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. They also got a late influx of new data that caused changes in their findings. "There was a very rigorous scrub using all the trade craft available, using the lessons of 2002," a senior official said. AP contributed to this report