The world can't drop its guard on Iran

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am

A US intelligence assessment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme four years ago is remarkable. The last report in 2005 concluded that the nation was 'determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure'.

If the National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, the reversal indicates that the world has been unnecessarily worried about Iran's nuclear intentions. All along, the nation's leaders have said that they are enriching uranium to make fuel for nuclear energy, not as part of an illicit weapons programme.

US President George W. Bush has, for months, led a campaign for tougher UN sanctions against Iran and left open the possibility of pre-emptive military action. His assertions and continued negotiations by the International Atomic Energy Agency would seem to have been without reason, based on the latest findings.

The explanation for the discrepancy is that intelligence is not static, but constantly evolving. What seemed to the US' 16 intelligence agencies two years ago to be the case was no longer so, hence the shift, officials said.

An American intelligence report in 2002 determining that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and was well on the way to being nuclear armed is still fresh in our minds. Mr Bush used the information as the basis for going to war against the country, yet no such weapons have been found.

There has since been a shake-up in US intelligence agencies. That the latest report was released independent of political channels is a welcome sign that the system appears to be working.

Similarly, if Iran in 2003 took quick notice of international pressure, this is also good. But the fundamentals remain: that Iran is still enriching uranium and a decision to halt a nuclear weapons programme can just as quickly be reversed.

International efforts to ensure Iran's drive for nuclear energy does not stray must continue. Nuclear weapons proliferation threatens stability, and preventing nations from taking such a route has to remain a priority.