The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead with the declassified summary of a National Intelligence Estimate that says Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The findings, which also top the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox, represent the consensus view of the country's 16 intelligence agencies and sharply contradict a 2005 estimate that said Iran was aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. The report, which is widely described as a huge surprise, also provides a sharp contrast to recent statements by President Bush, who has been saying Iran's nuclear program poses a serious threat to U.S. security. In one fell swoop, these new conclusions are likely to have a profound effect on Bush's last year in office and the presidential campaign, not to mention efforts to get the international community to impose more sanctions on Iran.
USA Todayfronts the report but leads with word that the top U.S. airlines continue to cut back on their domestic schedules while demand continues to increase. The six big U.S. airlines will have 4.4 percent fewer seats in January than last year, according to the paper's analysis. This reduction can come in a variety of ways, but ultimately the result is that "travelers face reduced options and fuller flights."
The new intelligence report concludes with "moderate confidence" that Iran has not restarted its efforts to get nuclear weapons, even though it has continued to enrich uranium, which it claims is for civilian purposes. But even if Iran wanted to get a nuclear weapon, it still faces severe technical problems and it wouldn't be able to produce enough of the needed material until the middle of the next decade. The NYT notes that, all rhetoric aside, this schedule is pretty much the same as what was included in the previous estimate. (The paper has a nice Page One graphic comparing two key statements from the reports.)
But perhaps more important than any of these estimates is the report's contention that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program after the U.N. began to poke its nose in it, which "indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the … costs." As the LAT points out, this should bode well for members of the administration who have been advocating negotiation rather than confrontation.
The White House was quick to say the report validates the Bush administration strategy of trying to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But it seems clear that members of the administration knew that intelligence agencies were reviewing previous conclusions even as Bush and Vice President Cheney were warning about the dire effects of a nuclear Iran. The Post has the most details on this and says in a separate Page One analysis that Bush had known for "at least a month or two" that the matter was being investigated when he warned that a nuclear Iran could cause World War III. Intelligence officials were met with such skepticism from senior members of the Bush administration when they shared the new evidence in July that they spent several months making sure it was legit.
Now the clear challenge for the administration will be to get other countries on board to impose new sanctions on Iran. The NYT talks to European officials who say they can't understand why the report was released two days after a Bush administration official met with world powers in Paris to talk about a new Security Council resolution. "Unofficially, our efforts to build up momentum for another resolution are gone," one European official said. And the report will clearly be seen as a victory for Russia, whose president said only a few weeks ago that there was "no evidence" Iran was building a weapon.
The WSJ is alone in going high with the theory that the report could bring problems for the Iranian government, which has not been shy about claiming its nuclear ambitions as a way of gaining power across the region. Meanwhile, USAT talks to an Israeli expert who says Israel's intelligence community disagrees with the latest findings.
Why was the report released now? No one seems to know, but what is more than clear is that it will have a profound effect on the presidential race, since it's an issue that was expected to dominate 2008. Democrats were quick to point out the report supports their view that diplomacy is the best way forward with Iran, notes the NYT. Sen. Hillary Clinton's Democratic opponents seized the opportunity to criticize her vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
In other election news, the WSJ fronts its latest poll that shows concerns about the economy and health care are taking over worries about wars and security as the most important issues when choosing a candidate. The paper notes the latest numbers are the reverse of what was seen before the 2004 election. The news bodes well for Democrats, both historically and because recent polls have shown Americans trust them more to deal with these types of issues.
Everybody notes that European monitors criticized Russia's elections, saying there had been "a clear abuse of power and a clear violation of international standards." The monitors mostly criticized the days preceding the elections, and the way there was a "merging of the state and a political party." But President Vladimir Putin didn't seem to care and declared the victory was "a sign of trust." The almost-final tally gives Putin's United Russia party more than 64 percent of the vote. The Communist Party, with a measly 57 seats, will provide the only opposition in the Duma.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was barred from running for parliament in January by the country's election commission. Sharif and Benazir Bhutto have now joined forces and vowed to boycott the elections if the government doesn't improve conditions before the election.
Are you a real environmentalist? If so, you might want to consider staying with your spouse long after the love is gone. Turns out, divorce is just one more thing that is bad for the environment. The LAT and WP report on a new study that reveals couples who live together use energy and water much more efficiently than those that have split up. In one year alone, divorced households were responsible for using as much as 61 percent more resources per person than before they split. "If you don't want to get remarried," the study's author explained, "maybe move in with somebody you like."