by RAY FLEMING
PRESIDENT Bush made the best of a bad job at his press conference yesterday when he claimed that the US National Intelligence Report (NIE) on Iran's nuclear programme need not in any way change his mind about his tough policy towards Tehran. The report, released on Monday, said: “We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its weapons programme.” This judgement appeared to contradict the NIE's 2005 assessment that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressures”. In a recent speech Mr Bush warned that an Iranian bomb could contribute to world war three and Vice President Cheney has spoken of “serious consequences” if Iran continued its uranium enrichment programme. The latest NIE report is entirely in accordance with Iranian claims, that it is not making a bomb and that its enrichment programme is for peaceful purposes. Mr Bush says that Iran could reactivate its bomb programme at any time using the enriched uranium processed for nuclear reactors and that therefore the pressure should be kept on Tehran to stop enrichment. Many people will think that at the very least Mr Bush should use the report to initiate talks with Iran to find out whether the “third world war” stand-off is really necessary. It is intriguing to speculate on why the NIE published its about-face at this time. One theory is that it did not want to be held responsible for justifying a military strike against Iran.

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