A new U.S. intelligence report confirms that the Iranian government was working on a covert nuclear weapons program until it halted those efforts in 2003 as a result of international scrutiny and pressure. This National Intelligence Estimate, or N-I-E, based on newly acquired intelligence, is an update of the 2005 U.S. estimate that had assessed that Iran was still actively pursuing nuclear weapons.
The new report states, however, that Tehran, “at a minimum, is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” by continuing to enrich and reprocess uranium, in violation of its international nuclear obligations. In addition, Iran is continuing its work on its ballistic missile program and, according to the report, “Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.”
U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says the newly released report is “good news”:
“On the one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen. But it also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains. . .a very serious problem.”
At a press conference in Washington, President George W. Bush said that Iran remains a threat to peace. Mr. Bush pointed out that Iran resumed uranium enrichment in 2005, a key step not just in the production of civil nuclear energy, but also in the development of nuclear weapons:
“Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. The N-I-E says that Iran had a hidden – a covert nuclear weapons program. That’s what it said. What’s to say they [the Iranians] couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?”
President Bush says he will continue to work with allies to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The international community is considering a third sanctions resolution against Iran. “The N-I-E talks about how a carrot and stick approach can work,” said Mr. Bush. “This is heartening news to people who believe that, on the one hand we should exert pressure, and on the other hand, we should provide the Iranians a way forward. . .And our hope is that the Iranians will get diplomacy back on track.”
The U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 – Russia, France, the U.K., China and Germany – first offered a generous incentives package to Iran in June 2006 if Tehran would agree to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice additionally promised she would meet with the Iranians at any time and any place if Iran took that one step. The offer of a diplomatic solution remains on the table.