"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. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work." - Key section of National Intelligence Assessment: Iran - Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
"WWIII on hold?" was Matt Drudge's headline reaction to yesterday's US intelligence report on Iran's nuclear programme.
Max Boot: "While Iran’s nuclear-weapons program may have been suspended (the NIE expresses only “moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007”), the “civilian” nuclear program is going forward. What the NIE doesn’t spell out is that it’s fairly easy to convert a civilian nuclear program into a military nuclear weapons program. All you need is the appropriate “scientific, technical, and industrial capacity”—which the NIE says “with high confidence that Iran has”—and some highly-enriched fissile material, which Iran is trying to produce."
Little Green Footballs: "I’m probably not the only one at this point with less than total confidence in American intelligence services; but note that although the report says Iran has “shelved” their program, it still estimates that they would be technically capable of producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon within two years. Don’t you feel reassured now?"
Con Coughlin, Telegraph: "The problem for the peaceniks is that, the more Washington vacillates over what to do with Iran, the more progress the Iranians make with their uranium enrichment programme."
Justin Webb, BBC: "I talked to a former senior advisor to the White House who feels sick at the way in which all of this stuff has to be discussed openly, and fears that the Bush team has been fatally undermined on Iran by its own intelligence agencies. Revenge, perhaps, for the flak they took over Iraq?"
...and George W Bush's reaction: "Bush said Tuesday that he only learned of the new intelligence assessment last week. But he portrayed it as valuable ammunition against Tehran, not as a reason to lessen diplomatic pressure. "To me, the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program," the president said. "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program.""
But, for me (echoing my thoughts of one year ago) Victor Davis Hanson may have got closest to the truth by noting the estimated time at which Tehran may have frozen its nuclear weapons ambitions:
"Iran, like Libya, likely came to a conjecture (around say early spring 2003?) that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction. After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war — aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region — might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?"
Danny Finkelstein agrees: "If Iran has indeed halted the programme, it did so under huge US pressure and in the same year as the attack on Saddam. The lesson is that this pressure works. Huge numbers of articles have been written since 2003 about how the US was powerless and how the Iraq war had strengthened the war. The new assessments suggests that these articles were wrong. The debate should be transformed - with those urging a tough line feeling greatly strengthened."