Reuters: Iran on Tuesday exulted at a U.S. intelligence report contradicting Bush administration assertions it was building an atomic bomb, but Israel was skeptical and Britain urged continued pressure on Tehran. By Zahra Hosseinian
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran on Tuesday exulted at a U.S. intelligence report contradicting Bush administration assertions it was building an atomic bomb, but Israel was skeptical and Britain urged continued pressure on Tehran.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report took U.S. friends and foes by surprise after years of strident rhetoric from Washington accusing Iran of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.
Analysts said the report — which said Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 — might undermine Washington’s drive to convince other world powers to agree further U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Iran quickly welcomed the report, published on Monday, as a vindication of its long-standing claim that its nuclear program had only peaceful civilian aims.
“It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case … now amend their views realistically,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state radio.
“The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.”
But Britain, whose position on Iran is closely aligned with Washington’s, said it would continue to press for increased international pressure despite the report.
“We think the report’s conclusions justify the actions already taken by the international community to both show the extent of and try to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and to increase pressure on the regime to stop its (uranium) enrichment and reprocessing activities,” a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
“It confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons (and) shows that the sanctions program and international pressure were having an effect in that they seem to have abandoned the weaponization element,” he said.
Close U.S. ally Israel was unimpressed by the report.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for the U.S.-backed campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions to press ahead regardless.
“It is vital to pursue efforts to prevent Iran from developing a capability like this and we will continue doing so along with our friends the United States,” he told reporters.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio that as far as Israel knew Iran had probably renewed its weapons program since 2003.
In Berlin, a German spokesman said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believed the report contained “interesting details” that would be discussed later on Tuesday when he spoke to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
China said its stand on Iran remained the same — to seek a solution through dialogue. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said in Beijing that he hoped Iran could fulfill its U.N. resolution obligations and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
World powers met last Saturday in Paris to discuss a further round of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, nuclear weapons.
Two U.N. sanctions resolutions have been passed so far against Iran, unanimously but after diplomatic wrangling among the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain — plus Germany.
Russia has been generally wary of harsh sanctions against Iran, arguing there is no evidence that it has sought to develop nuclear arms. Word on its reaction to the U.S. report may emerge after talks in Moscow on Tuesday between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Tensions have escalated in recent months as Washington has ratcheted up the rhetoric against Tehran. President George W. Bush said in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.
In Vienna, The United Nations nuclear watchdog said the latest U.S. intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program backed up the findings of IAEA inspectors over the past few years.
(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux in Vienna, Jerusalem, Berlin, Beijing, London; Writing by Richard Balmforth)