Iran’s Nuke Program Ended In 2003?

You never know how much faith to put into assessments of WMD programs made by our intelligence agencies because it’s a tricky business. The government usually has limited sources of information, some of which may conflict with each other and you always have to wonder if politics within is playing a role. For example, after our intelligence agencies were panned for being too aggressive in claiming that Saddam had an active WMD program, wouldn’t you think that their natural tendency would be to tend towards extra caution?

In any case, since those of us in the public are not in a position to see the secret data that goes into making intelligence judgments, we have to, at least in large part, take what they say on faith.

That brings us to the National Intelligence Estimate that deals with Iran,

“A major U.S. intelligence review has concluded that Iran stopped work on a suspected nuclear weapons program more than four years ago, a stark reversal of previous intelligence assessments that Iran was actively moving toward a bomb.

The new findings, drawn from a consensus National Intelligence Estimate, reflected a surprising shift in the midst of the Bush administration’s continuing political and diplomatic campaign to depict Tehran’s nuclear development as a grave threat. The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended.

“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,” a declassified summary of the new National Intelligence Estimate stated. Two years ago, the intelligence community said in contrast it had “high confidence that Iran currently is determined to have nuclear weapons.”

The new estimate, prepared by the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies, applied the same “high confidence” label to a judgment that suspected Iranian military efforts to build a nuclear weapon were suspended in 2003 and said with “moderate confidence” that it had remained inactive since then.”

…Even if Iran were to restart its program now, the country probably could not produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single weapon before the middle of the next decade, the assessment stated. It also expressed doubt about whether Iran “currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

If this report is to be believed — and since we can’t objectively evaluate the evidence, we almost have to take the NIE’s word for it — the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq apparently terrified the Iranians into putting their nuclear weapons program on hold.

That means that the Bush administration won’t need to bomb Iran before they leave office. It also means that we have more time than we thought to put the screws to Iran diplomatically and hope for another revolution in that country.

All in all, that’s very good news because it means we have more options on the table to deal with Iran and more time to maneuver. Congrats to George Bush for securing this diplomatic victory!

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