New NIE report

WSJ reports on the news conference and new National Intelligence Estimate.

The new assessment concludes that Iran actually suspended its covert nuclear weapon program in the fall of 2003. That tends to undercut Bush’s recent warnings about the danger of “World War III” if Iran’s nuclear ambitions are realized.

At least the first half-dozen questions were related to the issue, with several reporters bluntly questioning whether Bush has exaggerated the danger from Tehran, especially in recent months. Several also sought to link the flip-flop on Iran intelligence to earlier U.S. intelligence miscues over Iraq. “Can’t you be accused of hyping this threat?” asked NBC’s David Gregory. “And don’t you worry that that undermines U.S. credibility?”

In response, Bush pointed out repeatedly that the new intelligence shows that U.S. diplomatic pressure actually has been working. He added that Iran remains a danger because of its demonstrated desire for a nuclear arsenal, as well as its continuing uranium-enrichment program, which could provide material for constructing a weapon. He also said he’d only been informed about the re-evaluation within the past week. Intelligence officials had told him earlier that there was a new development. But they weren’t being specific until they’d checked it out, Bush said.

The president also took the time to push for the trade bill with Peru as a way to fight terrorism, which is up for a vote today or tomorrow, calling it free trade again, instead of the WTO GATS modeled capital flow and nothing else trade bill. While the presidential candidates are mostly for it, they probably will be absent on the vote.