By Walter Pincus
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Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure, and while it continues to develop an enriched uranium program, it apparently has not resumed moving toward a nuclear capability, according to a consensus judgment of the U.S. intelligence community released today by Director of National Intelligence John M. McConnell.
The assessment states "with moderate confidence" that "Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program" as of mid-2007, but suggests that Tehran continues to keep that option open.
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," according to one of the key judgments of the new assessment. Two years ago, the intelligence community said publicly that it had "high confidence that Iran was currently determined to have nuclear weapons," a senior intelligence official said yesterday.
After that assessment was released, the community increased its clandestine and open collection of information about Iran's program, actions that led to today's reassessment, the officials said.
The major shift in the intelligence community's judgment about Iran's nuclear weapons intentions is contained in unclassified material from a new, classified National Intelligence Estimate sent to Capitol Hill today. The document represents the consensus opinion of the U.S. intelligence community.
The U.S. has been pressing the international community to put pressure on Iran to halt its weapons program, emphasizing the need to apply sanctions if Tehran continued with its uranium enrichment program.
Intelligence officials credit the decision by Libya to halt its weapons-development programs, the military action in Iraq and the threat of diplomatic isolation for influencing Tehran. They also note, however, that Iran continues to deny that it actually had a weapons program before 2003.
The decision to release an unclassified version of the key judgments reverses a stand McConnell took in a speech just one month ago.
"Since our understanding of Iran's nuclear capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available," according to a statement from Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence.
There was also concern that elements of the classified version would leak out after they were sent to Congress, causing public confusion on key issues, officials said. The decision to release key judgments was discussed with the White House, which approved the idea. But it was the intelligence community which wrote and released them, the senior intelligence officials said today.
According to the document, Iran is considered "highly unlikely" to be technically capable now of producing enough highly enriched weapons grade uranium for a weapon before 2009. With "moderate confidence," the report puts that date at 2010 and probably not before 2015.
However, the assessment judges that Tehran continues to conduct research on other conventional weapons, such as missiles, that at a later date could be useful in a nuclear weapons program.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007