WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence has determined that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but believes it is continuing to develop technical capabilities that could be used to build a bomb, a government report said on Monday.
The latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released by the Bush administration also said Iran would likely be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon “sometime during the 2010-2015 time-frame.”
The report contain a number of differences from findings two years ago in which U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure.”
The latest report comes amid Tehran’s continuing defiance in the face of U.S.-led international demands to halt its uranium enrichment activities.
Iran has already been hit with two rounds of U.N. sanctions and Washington, which insists it wants to solve the problem diplomatically while leaving military options open, is pushing for a third package. “Today’s National Intelligence Estimate offers some positive news. It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It tells us that we have made progress in trying to ensure that this does not happen,” Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley said in a statement. “But the intelligence also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem,” he added.
The latest NIE said, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. We also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”
The report said U.S. intelligence had “moderate confidence” that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program by mid-2007, but added that “we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
The report also cited “moderate confidence that Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.”
It said “Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.”