NIE Report on Iran Contradicts Bush Claims A new U.S. intelligence report on Iran says Tehran may be able to develop a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015. But the National Intelligence Estimate finds that Iran halted its development program in the fall of 2003 — contradicting claims by the Bush administration.
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NIE Report on Iran Contradicts Bush Claims

Hear Mike Shuster and Melissa Block on All Things Considered

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Iran stopped work on a clandestine nuclear weapons program four years ago. That's the conclusion of a new U.S. intelligence report. As for when Iran might develop a nuclear weapon, the report says it could produce enough highly enriched uranium after 2010, possibly not until after 2015. These conclusions are contained in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. That's a highly classified document. But its key judgments were declassified and released today by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

And NPR's Mike Shuster is with us to discuss the findings. Mike, tell us a little bit more about what this NIE says.

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, Melissa, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran says that the U.S. intelligence community believes, in its words, with high confidence that there was a secret nuclear weapons program underway in Iran until the fall of 2003. At that point, it says, the Iranians shut the program down. The halt lasted for several years and may be continuing today, although there's not consensus on this point among the many intelligence agencies that weighed in on the estimate.

The estimate also indicates that it is unlikely Iran does not have, it is likely that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon at the moment. In addition, the estimate makes a judgment about why Iran decided to stop the nuclear weapons program. Our assessment, the document says, is that the program was halted primarily in response to international pressure. So this suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than judged earlier.

BLOCK: Mike, the conclusions in this NIE seem to fly in the face of previous reports on Iran's nuclear weapons program. Weren't those assessments more dire?

SHUSTER: They were. Two years ago, the judgment was that the intelligence community believed that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons despite international pressures. The estimate two years ago also suggested Iran could acquire highly enriched uranium enough for a bomb more quickly than it has. So the overall thrust of this current estimate released today is that Iran is acquiring the fissile material necessary to make a nuclear weapon more slowly than believed earlier, and that international pressure has had an impact on Iranian decisions about the costs and the benefits of acquiring nuclear weapons.

BLOCK: So why did Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, decide to declassify these findings?

SHUSTER: That's a good question because McConnell said recently that, as a rule, he does not favor releasing a declassified version of intelligence estimates like this. But he released a statement today in which he said that the decision to release the key judgments, the declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate was made in the interest of national security. Because the intelligence community had been on record with the 2005 estimate, the leaders of the intelligence community decided it was important to make the new findings public to ensure an accurate public debate.

BLOCK: And how does this play into that debate? There's been a lot of controversy over whether diplomacy should be used to pressure Iran or whether there should be the possibility of military action.

SHUSTER: Exactly. This is obviously a controversial document. And it's bound to spark argument within the administration, which is itself divided over how to deal with Iran. It's likely that those in the administration who favor military action against Iran - and that's believed to be primarily the Vice President Cheney and those close to him - it's believed that they are not likely to be pleased with the estimate's findings. Whereas Secretary of State Rice, who has favored diplomacy and the use of economic sanctions and other pressures, should draw some support from this document.

Today, at the White House, Steve Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, said the estimate offers grounds for hope of changing Iran's behavior. And he added that President Bush has been right to pursue a negotiated solution with Iran while intensifying international pressure. I should add that some recent statements by the president didn't appear to many to fully embrace the diplomatic route and suggested that there might be military action down the road.

But I heard from one former senior intelligence official today with extensive experience in Iran. And he praised the estimate for what he called a sober and thoughtful assessment. He said the intelligence community was under a great deal of pressure on these judgments and on whether they should have been made public at all. And this former official said, its judgments and public disclosure that is in the estimate reflect the need to make up for past mistakes particularly related to the intelligence fiasco before the invasion of Iraq.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Mike Shuster talking about the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Mike, thanks a lot.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Melissa.

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