The big news splashed everywhere is the new national intelligence estimate that states Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003;

A new U.S. intelligence report concludes that Iran’s nuclear weapons development program has been halted since the fall of 2003 because of international pressure — a stark contrast to the conclusions U.S. spy agencies drew just two years ago.

The finding is part of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that also cautions that Tehran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.

The conclusion that Iran’s weapons program was still frozen, through at least mid-2007, represents a sharp turnaround from the previous intelligence assessment in 2005.

This despite the dire assessments of the 2005 NIE;

A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.

The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal. The new estimate could provide more time for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. President Bush has said that he wants the crisis resolved diplomatically but that “all options are on the table.”

The new National Intelligence Estimate includes what the intelligence community views as credible indicators that Iran’s military is conducting clandestine work. But the sources said there is no information linking those projects directly to a nuclear weapons program. What is clear is that Iran, mostly through its energy program, is acquiring and mastering technologies that could be diverted to bombmaking.

The estimate expresses uncertainty about whether Iran’s ruling clerics have made a decision to build a nuclear arsenal, three U.S. sources said. Still, a senior intelligence official familiar with the findings said that “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.”

Not to mention the widely reported Iranian peace offer forwarded by the Swiss to the US in 2003 (from a PBS Frontline interview with Flynt Leverett,  Middle East director, U.S. National Security Council, 2002-03, emphasis mine);

The cover letter described how the Swiss ambassador had come into possession of the document; who his Iranian interlocutor was — a senior foreign ministry official. … And he lays out that the senior Iranian foreign ministry official told him that this had been seen and discussed in multiple meetings with all of the major power centers in Iran — including the Supreme Leader, including the president at the time, President [Mohammad] Khatami — and that it was a fully authorized document from the Iranian government.

The content of the document, essentially, [was] an agenda for a diplomatic process to resolve all of the outstanding bilateral differences between the United States and Iran. On the Iranian side, they acknowledged that they would need to be prepared to deal with our concerns about their WMD activities, their links to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, and they said in there that they would be prepared to eliminate military support for these organizations and to work to turn Hezbollah, for example, into a purely political and social organization in Lebanon. They recognized that this would be something they would need to do as part of a rapprochement.

What was your reaction?

… I thought it was an extraordinary proposal, basically on comparable scale to the kinds of representations from [Chinese Prime Minister] Zhou Enlai that were passed through Pakistan in 1971 that paved the way for [then-Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry] Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing and then the Nixon trip to China. I thought they were proposing something on that scale of historic and strategic importance. …

Was that the time to make a deal?

From an American perspective it was absolutely the time to try and make a deal. We were at the height of our apparent power in the region. Iran was not yet spinning centrifuges, not yet enriching uranium. The president of Iran was not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Mohammad Khatami. Iraq had not yet fallen apart. And early cooperation with Iran, I think, might have been very helpful in forestalling the worst of what we’ve seen in Iraq over the past four years. …

Why didn’t the U.S.?

Because important power centers in the administration — the vice president, the secretary of defense, and I think even in the end the president himself — were opposed to this kind of diplomatic effort with Iran.

To sum up, Cheney’s cowboy diplomacy rejected a peace offer that satisfied all US objectives for stopping Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorism, prompting the hard-right reaction that led to the election of Ahmadinejad;

In the runoff election on Friday, voters chose between candidates with very different visions for the country: Mr. Rafsanjani, 70, who promised social changes, privatization and better relations with the United States; and Mr. Ahmadinejad, 49, who focused almost exclusively on the nation’s economic needs and appealed to Iranians’ national pride.According to final figures issued Saturday by the Interior Ministry, Mr. Ahmadinejad won 17.2 million votes compared with just over 10 million for Mr. Rafsanjani. The ministry said about 28 million voters went to the polls, for a turnout of about 60 percent, about the same as in the first round.

In his campaign, Mr. Ahmadinejad presented himself as eager to help Iran improve its international relations, acknowledging that it is impossible for Iran to cut itself off. But he has maintained that foreign relations must always be on Iran’s terms.

There are many things about this blatant warmongering that disturb me- especially the saber-rattling that has gone on since the administration was informed Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons;

“Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions,” Cheney said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

He said Iran’s efforts to pursue technology that would allow them to build a nuclear weapon are obvious and that “the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort to buy time.”

If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are “prepared to impose serious consequences.” The vice president made no specific reference to military action.

“We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

The good news about this duplicity is at least it is now out in the open, decreasing the chances that the rabid Cheney cabal will succeed in creating a public relations window similar to pre-invasion Iraq, through which nuclear bombs were sure to fall this time.

Shock and awe indeed.  I’ll be shocked if America can survive the Bush regime at all!

UPDATE: President Bush asserts he only saw the NIE last week during this morning’s press conference, despite it being available all year.  Guess he was too busy reading 60 books a year (yeaaaah right.)

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