AFP: President George W. Bush said Tuesday that Iran remains a danger and refused to rule out a military attack, despite a US intelligence report saying Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
WASHINGTON (AFP) President George W. Bush said Tuesday that Iran remains a danger and refused to rule out a military attack, despite a US intelligence report saying Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
“The best diplomacy, effective diplomacy, is one in which all options are on the table,” Bush said one day after the new intelligence assessment which has reopened the international controversy over Iran’s disputed program.
Iran said the US report had vindicated its stance, while UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the document could help defuse tensions though he added that Iran must step up cooperation with his agency.
Bush was adamant. “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” he told a White House press conference.
The president called on US allies to step up pressure on Iran. “The best way to ensure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians we are going to isolate you.”
Iran welcomed the report which concluded it halted a drive for atomic weapons in 2003.
The National Intelligence Estimate said that US allegations about Iran’s atomic goals had been exaggerated for at least two years, although it could have the capability to make a nuclear weapon by 2015.
“This report proves Bush’s statements — which always speak of the serious threat of Iran’s nuclear programme — are unreliable and fictitious,” said foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state radio: “We welcome it when any country that had questions about Iran’s nuclear case in the past — regardless of its motives — realistically corrects its view.”
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head ElBaradei, whose inspectors have been investigating Iran’s nuclear drive for four years, called for immediate negotiations between Iran and its western critics.
“This new assessment by the US should help to defuse the current crisis,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, it should prompt Iran to work actively with the IAEA.”
A senior IAEA official said the report confirmed its assessment that Tehran represents “no imminent danger.”
In October, Bush had sounded the alarm over Iran’s nuclear drive, raising the spectre of “World War III” or a “nuclear holocaust” if it obtained an atomic arsenal.
The US report, a consensus view of all 16 US spy agencies, said Iran appeared “less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005”.
It concluded that “the programme probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure (which) suggests that Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.
“But we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons,” cautioned declassified findings of the estimate, which starkly contradicted the US spy agencies’ 2005 conclusions.
The assessment said US agencies had “moderate confidence” that Iran would be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States had been discussing US-led calls for a third UN Security Council sanctions resolution.
US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said he hoped that the report would not slow momentum for new sanctions.
“There’s going to be a tendency of a lot of people to say: ‘The problem is less bad than we thought, let’s relax,'” said Hadley. “Our view is that would be a mistake.”
Germany and Britain both said the report had vindicated Europe’s approach of embarking on negotiations offering carrot and stick incentives to Iran. France said world powers should continue preparing a new UN resolution.
“The report confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,” said the spokesman of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“It also shows the intent is there and the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious issue.”
Iran’s arch-foe Israel gave the report a far more frosty reception, with Defence Minister Ehud Barak telling army radio that “Iran is probably continuing its programme of fabricating a nuclear bomb.”
Russia made no immediate comment on the report but President Vladimir Putin said during talks with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili that Iran’s nuclear programme should be “transparent”, Interfax news agency reported.
Bush called Putin for a 40 minute conversation to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme, Interfax quoted Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko as saying.