Mon Dec 3, 2007 2:27pm ET
By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and it remains on hold, contradicting the Bush administration's earlier assertion that Tehran was intent on developing a bomb.
The new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released on Monday could hamper U.S. efforts to convince other world powers to agree on a third package of U.N. sanctions against Iran for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment activities. Iran says it wants nuclear technology only for civilian purposes, such as electricity generation. Tensions have escalated in recent months as Washington has ratcheted up the rhetoric against Tehran, with U.S. President George W.
Bush insisting in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three.
But in a finding likely to surprise U.S. friends and foes alike, the latest NIE concluded: "We do not know whether (Iran)
currently intends to develop nuclear weapons." That marked a sharp contrast to an intelligence report two years ago that stated Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons." But the new assessment found Iran was continuing to develop technical capabilities that could be used to build a bomb and that it would likely be capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon "sometime during the 2010-2015 time-frame."