ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Jonathan Karl, Luis Martinez, Kirit Radia and Jennifer Duck Report: In a stunning reversal of Bush administration conventional wisdom, a new assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies concludes Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program over four years ago.
"We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," reads a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate key findings.
"We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009."
The entire NIE report will remain classified, however the office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of the key findings that can be read HERE.
The new intelligence report could create an embarrassing situation for the United States as it pushes for a third United Nations resolution against Iran for its nuclear activities.
The Bush administration reacted swiftly Monday, arguing that while the latest intelligence report is "positive news," they won’t abandon their strategy of applying "intensified international pressure" on Iran.
Calling the new intelligence "complicated" National Security Advisor Steven Hadley explained the intelligence community has known for a few months there was "new information" with Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
President Bush was told in August or September that "new information" with Iran’s nuclear program could be coming out but the president was only informed last Wednesday that the nuclear weapons program in Iran was halted in 2003. Vice President Cheney knew a week before the President was informed because he sat in on preliminary meetings, according to Hadley.
Hadley said the President was told in August-Sept to keep using the same talking points as he was using before when speaking on Iran. "He [Bush] was not told to stop talking about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He was not told to change what he says about it. What he was told was, we have new information; it is interesting; it is going to take us some time to understand it," Hadley explained.
However Hadley confirmed the intelligence was wrong in 2005 when the intelligence report said Iran’s nuclear weapons program still existed. "We thought they had that program — we did, indeed, in 2005."
Hadley urged the international community to "turn up the pressure on Iran" using diplomatic isolation, financial pressure, and UN sanctions. President Bush may speak about the new intelligence report findings in a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.
A senior U.S. official who has read the intelligence report told ABC News that while the NIE concludes "there has been a halt when it comes to weaponization" of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, that doesn’t mean Iran might not try to resume weaponization of their nuclear program in the future.
It’s "an intentions judgment, not a capabilities judgment," said a senior U.S. official. In other words, the Iranians could restart this aspect of there program, but for whatever reason, they have halted it for now.
The Iranian government has admitted they are maintaining a nuclear enrichment program. IAEA reports confirm Iran continues to work on perfecting centrifuge technology that could be used to create highly enriched uranium that could eventually be used in a nuclear weapons program.
The finding that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is based on new intelligence gathered this year. The NIE report was scheduled to be completed in the spring and sent to Congress, but was delayed because of the new information.