Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:50 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:50 | SYDNEY

US intelligence community revises Iran nuclear estimate


Sam Roggeveen


4 December 2007 09:06

Two weeks ago I cautioned that, with the imminent publication of the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program, we should ready ourselves for another round of speculation on US military strikes against Iran. I guess I never expected the US intelligence community to produce an assessment that could damp down such speculation.

US analysts now judge with 'high confidence' that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Given there has always been disagreement among experts as to whether Iran even had a weapons program or was just pursuing nuclear technology with an option to develop weapons later, this is a remarkable judgment. Yes, the circumstantial evidence for a weapons program has for some time been strong, but this 'high confidence' judgment suggests direct evidence.

Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis argues this is a victory for those who insisted on IAEA inspections and negotiations with Iran, in that the negotiations forced bureaucratic changes in Iran which sidelined the extremists and brought about the halt.

But although the 'bomb Iran' lobby will take no comfort from this NIE and the news of an Iranian halt is undoubtedly good, the fundamentals of this dispute remain. Crucially, the NIE maintains the judgment that Iran could have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon possibly by 2009, but more likely 2010-2015. Iran may well have taken a decision in 2003 to halt its weapons program, but such decisions can be reversed more or less instantaneously. So long as Iran continues its uranium enrichment program, it inches closer to the capability to make weapons.