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Report: Iran Stopped Weapons Program in 2003


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Des Moines, Iowa.


And I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.

President Bush is defending his administration's policies toward Iran even as a new intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

The president spoke at a White House news conference today, one day after a new National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, concluded with, quote, "moderate confidence" that the program remains frozen. Still, the president says Iran is still a threat.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believed before the NIE that Iran was dangerous, and I believe after the NIE that Iran is dangerous. And I believe now is the time for the world to do the hard work necessary to convince the Iranians there is a better way forward. And I say hard work...

MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking earlier today at the White House.

We're joined now by NPR's Don Gonyea there at the White House. Good morning.

DON GONYEA: Hi, there.

MONTAGNE: It doesn't sound like the president is aiming to change his policy toward Iran.

GONYEA: It sure doesn't. In fact, he says the White House policy remains the same, that pressure must be kept on Iran. And what he did is he focused on the fact that Iran has never, on its own, acknowledged that it had a nuclear weapons program, even if it did end back in 2003, as this new National Intelligence Estimate tells us. He says it was covert; they apparently stopped it on their own. That doesn't mean they couldn't start it up again.

And again, remember, the uranium - the enriched uranium that Iran would get for these weapons would, the White House says, come from this civilian nuclear power program that Iran continues to push forward with. So he says that remains a very large concern.

MONTAGNE: And Don, the president did face a barrage of questions today about his tough talk in recent months against Iran.

Let's listen to this clip from NBC's David Gregory.

Mr. DAVID GREGORY (NBC News): When it came to Iran, you said in October - on October 17th, you warned about the prospect of World War III, when months before you made that statement this intelligence about them suspending their weapons program back in '03 had already come to light to this administration. So can't you be accused of hyping this threat? And don't you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?

MONTAGNE: And what was the president's response?

GONYEA: There were a lot of questions about the rhetoric that we have seen out of the White House. That World War III remark that David Gregory from NBC mentioned happened just six weeks ago or so. It was on October 17th, and the White House says at that point it has gotten only a preliminary report from intelligence officials and that the data needed to be analyzed still, so the president continued speaking the way he did. He really says that he only learned in the last few days - last week, really, about what we are now hearing, that Iran suspended that nuclear program.

But again, Renee, he keeps making the point over and over that the fact that it was suspended does not mean it couldn't start up again at any time. So that is the story they are really pressing today.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

And you can read the National Intelligence Estimate report for yourself at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.