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US says Iran ended nuke pursuit in 2003

Breaking news from the New York Times:

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new estimate declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”

The estimate does not say when American intelligence agencies learned that the weapons program had been halted, but a statement issued by Donald Kerr, the principal director of national intelligence, said the document was being made public “since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed.”

Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.” The administration called new attention to the threat posed by Iran earlier this year when President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

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