Report: Iran Stopped Weapons Program in 2003

A new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran concludes that the country's efforts to build a nuclear weapon had ceased back in 2003. The report is a stark contrast to the dire warnings issued from the Bush administration about a nuclear threat posed by Iran.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush holds a news conference at the White House this morning. Aides say he'll chastise Congress for not finishing work on budget bills, including funding for the Iraq War.

But Iran is likely to dominate reporters' questions, now that a new intelligence report concludes Iran is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons.

NPR's Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA: Monday was Congress's first day back after two weeks off, and the president took on a scolding tone when he spoke to reporters in the Rose Garden yesterday. He called for Congress to pass his spending priorities and threatened another veto if Congress continues to insist on its own.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It is time for members of Congress to meet their responsibility to our men and women in uniform, and they should stay in session until they pass these emergency funds for our troops.

GONYEA: But within hours of the president making that statement, word broke of a new national intelligence estimate - the combined assessment produced by all of the nation's intelligence services. It says that Iran stopped efforts to build a nuclear weapon back in 2003. That flatly contradicts the increasingly dire warnings about the threat posed by Iran that have been issued from the White House over the past several years, including a comment by Mr. Bush in October that if we want to prevent World War III, we must frustrate Iran's efforts to obtain or develop a nuclear weapon.

Still, yesterday National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley conceded nothing and said the U.S. must keep the pressure on Iran.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Advisor): I think there is going to be a tendency for a lot of people to say, a-ha, problem's less bad than we thought, let's relax. And I think our view is that would be a mistake.

GONYEA: Iran will no doubt be a major topic at this morning's news conference. The president is expected to argue that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program as recently as 2003 and that this pursuit casts a cloud over what Tehran characterizes as a civilian drive for a nuclear power plant to meet energy needs.

Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed to the new intelligence report as evidence that the White House has been exaggerating a security threat just as they say it did five years ago to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And you can read the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran at npr.org.

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Iran Quit Nuclear Weapons Work, Intel Report Says

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili speaks during the International Seminar on Iran's Nuclear Program and Dr. El Baradei's Report in Tehran on Nov. 22, 2007. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Iran may be able to develop a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015 — but the country halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 due to international pressure, according to a new National Intelligence Estimate report.

The findings, which contradict claims by the Bush administration, suggest that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium, and that it could acquire enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon after 2010, and possibly not until after 2015.

The U.S. intelligence community stated "with high confidence" that Iran ceased its efforts to develop nuclear weapons when international inspections began in fall 2003. The report's authors went on to say that Iran could likely be persuaded to abandon the program further.

Those conclusions were contained in a highly classified document, but its key judgments were declassified and released by the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In a special White House briefing on the report, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley called it "a complicated estimate."

Hadley said it was "good news" that a dispute over Iran's nuclear program might be resolved without the use of force, but that "the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem."

Hadley also said that the Bush administration had not sought to manipulate the information to help shape U.S. policy on Iran.

Citing a May 2005 report, Hadley said that the intelligence community "assessed with high confidence that Iran currently was determined to develop nuclear weapons."

The intelligence community maintained this assessment throughout this year, 2007," Hadley said, noting that both Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and his successor, Mike McConnell, reported that Tehran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

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