Iranian weapons programme halted since 2003

04 December 2007

A consensus report by US intelligence agencies has concluded that Iran halted work on developing nuclear weapons in 2003, reversing the conclusion of a 2005 report.

In its latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iran: Nuclear intentions and capabilities, the US National Intelligence Council judges "with high confidence" that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme in the third quarter of 2003 and is also confident that it has not to date restarted it. The halt appears to have been in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure, but the country appears to be keeping the nuclear option open, the authors conclude. Acknowledging that it is not known whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons in the future, the report assesses it as possible, but unlikely, that Iran could be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon by late 2009, although a date after 2013 would be probably be more realistic.

These findings overturn key judgements of a May 2005 assessment which suggested that Iran was then determined to develop nuclear weapons despite international obligations and pressure, and would be capable of making enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of the current decade.

National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) are prepared by the US National Intelligence Council. Described as the US intelligence community's most authoritative judgement on national security issues, NIEs present assessments and estimate likelihoods of events based on the known intelligence gathered by US agencies.

The White House, currently pushing for increased international pressure against Iran to force it to halt its uranium enrichment activities, described the news as positive. "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 ... [but it] also tells us that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious problem," according to a statement by national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

Iran maintains that its enrichment activities are intended for civilian use only. A statement by Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, noted that the report tallied with the IAEA's consistent statements over the last few years that there was no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons programme or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran, although clarification in some areas was still needed.

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin was preparing to meet Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Moscow to discuss sending Russian fuel to Iran for use in its Bushehr power reactor. IAEA inspectors were reported to have sealed the fuel ready for shipment at the end of November, but no date was set for shipment. The start-up of the Russian-built reactor is not likely to take place until at least six months after the fuel is shipped. "The sooner we ship it, the less they will have need for their own [enrichment] programme," a Putin spokesman told journalists.

Further information

National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear intentions and capabilities
International Atomic Energy Agency

WNA's Nuclear Energy in Iran information paper

 Iran's cooperation sufficient, but not proactive
WNN: Putin: Bushehr problems technical not political
WNN: INSIGHT BRIEFING: Iran rebuked by sanctions

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