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US Intelligence Report Enters Into Debate on Iran Nuclear Issue

American intelligence agencies say Iran halted a weapons program in 2003. But President Bush and some other leaders say Iran is still a danger. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Sixteen government agencies form what is known as the intelligence community in the United States. From time to time, this community puts together reports called National Intelligence Estimates that deal with foreign activities and threats. Parts are sometimes made public.

This week, officials released major judgments from a new report on Iran's nuclear activities. It says Iran operated a secret program to develop nuclear weapons but halted that program in late two thousand three.

The report suggests that Iran did so mainly because of international pressure. It says Iran may be more open to influence than was thought. But Iran continues to enrich uranium for civilian use, the report says, and this could be used to produce weapons if desired.

The report says Iran might have enough nuclear material to build a bomb in the next three to eight years, at the earliest. But it says Iran now appears less determined to produce nuclear weapons than was believed.

The findings came as a surprise. A National Intelligence Estimate two years ago said Iran was working hard to develop nuclear weapons.

President Bush said the report released Monday was the result of better intelligence. But he said nothing has changed. He said Iran is still a danger. And he urged governments to continue to pressure Iran about its nuclear activities. That the program was halted, he says, is not as important as the finding that it once existed and could be restarted.

The report comes as the Bush administration has been trying to win support for new international restrictions against Iran. In recent weeks, the president has warned that the world cannot risk a nuclear-armed Iran, saying it could lead to World War Three.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the new American intelligence report a declaration of victory. He says it shows that Iran's nuclear program is for energy, not weapons.

In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak rejected the intelligence report. He said he believes it is incomplete and that Iran has restarted its nuclear weapons program. He offered no evidence, though.

On Thursday, NATO foreign ministers expressed support for a proposed third set of sanctions in the United Nations Security Council. And, in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Iran is still a danger. Britain also says it remains concerned about Iran's nuclear program.

But Russia and China have resisted further sanctions. Russian and Chinese officials say the new report will have to be considered in those discussions. Both countries, as permanent members of the Security Council, could veto any additional sanctions.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. Transcripts and MP3s of our reports are at I’m Steve Ember.