Iran 'may not have ended search for nuclear bomb'

A senior British diplomat has for the first time challenged the findings of a crucial American intelligence report which was considered to have removed the justification for military strikes against Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate, reflecting a consensus of 16 US intelligence agencies, that it had "high confidence" Iran had shelved a nuclear weapons programme in 2003 was too "emphatic", the diplomat said.

"Many of us were surprised by how emphatic the writers of it were. That all the activities stopped in 2003 and had not resumed.

"I haven't seen any intelligence that gives me even medium confidence that these programmes haven't resumed. So we just don't know," the diplomat told journalists yesterday. The US intelligence report in December "had an impact on the international debate, but I don't think it ever took the military option off the table", he added, saying that the Iranians "continue to pursue a dangerous path, and we shouldn't underestimate the risk of miscalculation".

The US, Britain, France and Germany yesterday demanded answers from Iran about its suspected military research and development in the past at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The issue was brought into sharp focus by a briefing to diplomats and experts at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters last week, in which documents, and a video that seemingly came from Iran's own military laboratories, were displayed.

European powers had been aware of the intelligence – dating from 2004 – since the following year, the British diplomat said. But it gained in "clarity" when it was laid out in Vienna.

Iran has rejected the documents as fabrication and says that experiments involved conventional weaponry only. The IAEA has acknowledged that it has not found any diversion to a military programme.

But the British diplomat said that concerns remain because of Iran's refusal to provide unfettered access to sites and to key officials.

Asked about a possible parallel with Iraq, where flawed intelligence was used to justify the invasion, the diplomat replied: "Just because we got it wrong on Iraq, it doesn't mean we're getting it wrong on Iran." But he stressed that the UK approach was to "pursue a diplomatic solution to this crisis. We remain absolutely committed to that."

The UN Security Council resolution adopted on Monday, which toughens sanctions against Iran, "gives momentum to this effort", he said.

Iran, which says that its nuclear programme is purely to obtain electricity, has been hit with three rounds of UN sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, which could theoretically lead to the country building a nuclear bomb.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday refused to back down and called the UN Security Council a political "instrument" of the big powers.

The heart of the problem is over Iran's right to a domestic fuel cycle, as enshrined in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The West is offering incentives if Iran agrees to uranium enrichment outside the country, something which the leadership has rejected.

Mr Ahmadinejad appeared to reject the West's offer of more talks, saying that in future Iran would only talk to the IAEA. "We won't negotiate with anyone outside the agency," he was quoted as saying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own