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Iran Threat Downgraded

In a blow to Bush administration hawks demanding military strikes on Iran, a US intelligence report reveals that Tehran's secret nuclear weapons programme was shut down four years ago.

The finding concluded: "We do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." That is in sharp contrast to an intelligence report two years ago that stated Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons".

The report was meant to be released last Spring but was delayed to avoid the mistakes of a similar exercise on Iraq in 2002 which exaggerated Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and cleared the way for the US-led invasion.

The report said Iran was not a rogue regime, but a rational country where " decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

In a blow to Bush administration hawks demanding military strikes on Iran, a US intelligence report reveals that Tehran's secret nuclear weapons programme was shut down four years ago.

The finding concluded: "We do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." That is in sharp contrast to an intelligence report two years ago that stated Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons".

The report was meant to be released last Spring but was delayed to avoid the mistakes of a similar exercise on Iraq in 2002 which exaggerated Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and cleared the way for the US-led invasion.

The report said Iran was not a rogue regime, but a rational country where " decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

"Today's National Intelligence Estimate offers some positive news," said the National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. "It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons."

He added that on balance the report was "good news", insisting it showed Tehran was susceptible to international pressure but that the risk of it acquiring nuclear weapons "remains a very serious problem".

President Bush seemed to prepare the ground for just such an attack last month when he declared that any international effort to avoid "World War III" would have to start by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability. Vice-President Dick Cheney then threatened "serious consequences" if Tehran did not abandon its nuclear programme.

As these threats were being made, the CIA had secretly concluded that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ended the nuclear weapons work years ago in the face of diplomatic pressure and the threat of sanctions. The order " was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure," the spy agencies said.

The report, a synthesis of the country's 16 intelligence agencies, said they "do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons" . But it went on to say that President Bush "has the right strategy" with Iran.

Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said the assessment was " directly challenging some of this administration's alarming rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran." The administration should " appropriately adjust its rhetoric and policy".