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Iran hails US nuclear report

Iran welcomes a US intelligence report which undermines accusations by US President George W. Bush against Tehran.

world Updated: Dec 04, 2007 20:06 IST

Iran on Tuesday welcomed a US intelligence report which concluded it halted a drive for atomic weapons in 2003, saying the study undermined accusations by US President George W. Bush against Tehran.

In Vienna a senior official of the UN nuclear watchdog said the report confirms the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessment that Tehran represents "no imminent danger."

The report by the US intelligence community said that US allegations about Iran's atomic goals have been exaggerated for at least two years, although it could have the capability to make a nuclear weapon by 2015.

The White House, which has long accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons -- said there should be no-let up in pressure on Tehran amid talks for a third UN resolution punishing the Islamic republic for its defiance.

"This report proves that Bush's statements -- which always speak of the serious threat of Iran's nuclear programme -- are unreliable and fictitious," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a statement.

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."

In October, US President George W. Bush raised the spectre of "World War III" or a "nuclear holocaust" if Iran obtained an atomic arsenal and wrongly claimed that Tehran had openly "proclaimed" its desire for one.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the consensus view of all 16 US spy agencies, said that 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 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 NIE's 2005 conclusions.

US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said he hoped that the report would not encourage Russia and China to stiffen their opposition to further sanctions on Iran.

"There's going to be a tendency of a lot of people to say: 'The problem's less bad than we thought, let's relax,'" said Hadley. "Our view is that would be a mistake."

The NIE judged with "moderate confidence" that Iran would be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon "sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe," with the US State Department saying not before 2013.

Germany and Britain also said the report had confirmed that Europe had been right to embark on negotiations offering carrot and stick incentives to Iran.

The report confirms "the double approach chosen by the international community which foresees at the same time encouragement and the measures of the UN Security Council is good," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

The United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China had been working on a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran's uranium enrichment when the US report was released.

Amid a flurry of diplomacy China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi held telephone talks with EU and US counterparts, his ministry said on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was less positive over the report, vowing to keep working with Washington to prevent arch-foe Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"It is necessary to continue our efforts with our American friends to prevent Iran from obtaining non-conventional weapons," he said on army radio.

Iran has stepped up its cooperation with the IAEA in recent months to clear up outstanding questions over the atomic drive, in the hope this will lead to further sanctions moves to be dropped.

But the nuclear watchdog has still been unable to confirm if the Iranian nuclear programme is peaceful.

On Tuesday the senior IAEA official said the US intelligence report "validates the (IAEA) statements over the last years that inspectors have found no concrete evidence of an undeclared nuclear weapons programme in Iran."

The report also validates IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's assessment "that he has not seen an imminent danger and that there is ample time for negotiations," the official added.

"The nuclear issue is now closed," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a Gulf summit in Doha on Monday before the US report was released. "We do not feel threatened at all and we are prepared for any eventuality or conditions."