Iran Welcomes U.S. Move to Correct Claim That Tehran Has Active Nuclear Weapons Program

Iran's foreign minister welcomed Tuesday the U.S. decision to "correct" its claim that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, state-run radio reported.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was referring to a U.S. intelligence assessment released Monday that reversed earlier claims that Iran had restarted its weapons program in 2005 after suspending it in 2003.

"It's natural that we welcome ... countries that correct their views realistically which in the past had questions and ambiguities about (Iran's nuclear activities)," Mottaki said.

Mottaki said various reports recently issued about Iran's nuclear program, including one by the U.N. nuclear watchdog last month, showed "the current trend of Iran's nuclear activities is peaceful."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the new report proved that past U.S. claims that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons were false.

"Remarks by Bush and other U.S. administration officials, who have continuously talked about the danger of Iran's nuclear program, are baseless and unreliable," Hosseini said in his statement.

Several other Iranian officials also praised the new intelligence report, saying it proved Tehran's nuclear program was peaceful and had "disarmed" hawkish members of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration pushing for military action against Iran.

None of the Iranian officials admitted to having a nuclear weapons development program before 2003, as claimed by the U.S. intelligence community.

"This confession from within the U.S. administration's most sensitive ranks is proof ... that (Iran's) nuclear program is peaceful," top lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.

The U.S. and some of its allies have consistently accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Iran has denied.

Another conservative lawmaker, Elham Aminzadeh, said the new report would hinder U.S. officials who have threatened to use military action to halt Iran's nuclear activities.

"It has disarmed them," Elham Aminzadeh told The Associated Press. "It proved that Iran is not a danger to the world, as some members of the Bush administration claim."

The new U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran's nuclear weapons development program has been halted since the fall of 2003 because of international pressure.

The finding is part of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that also cautions that Tehran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.

The conclusion that Iran's weapons program was still frozen, through at least mid-2007, represents a sharp turnaround from the previous intelligence assessment in 2005.

Then, U.S. intelligence agencies believed Tehran was determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability and was continuing its weapons development program. The new report concludes that Iran's decisions are rational and pragmatic, and that Tehran is more susceptible to diplomatic and financial pressure than previously thought.

"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," said the unclassified summary of the report released Monday.

The finding is expected to bolster those who say Bush has overstated the threat posed by Iran and weaken the argument for military action.

Iranian spokesman Hosseini said the new U.S. intelligence report meant that Washington's push to refer the case over Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council in 2006 was "illegal."

"One of the consequences of this report is that referring Iran's nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council was illegal because, based on the report by U.S. intelligence agencies, Iran had no nuclear weapons program when the issue was referred to the U.N. Security Council in 2006," Hosseini's statement said.

It was uncertain whether the development will have an impact on the Bush administration's drive for new sanctions against Iran in the United Nations.

A top U.S. diplomat said Monday before the report was released that China may be open to discussing fresh U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran. Like Russia, China had been reluctant to support new sanctions; both Russia and China have Security Council vetoes that could stop an American effort to push through tougher sanctions.