COMMENTS: No Manhattan Project in Teheran

News about Iran's nuclear program headed a busy day. A severe storm struck the Pacific Northwest. President Hugo Chavez accepted defeat in a constitutional referendum in Venezuela. Campaigning intensified in the run-up to the Presidential nominating caucuses in Iowa. Don Imus returned to the radio airwaves. The Story of the Day was the official conclusion by US spies that Iran has not worked on building a nuclear weapon for four years now. The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities was the lead on both CBS and NBC. ABC led with the high winds and heavy rains around Seattle.

ABC and CBS had their Pentagon correspondents cover Iran; NBC gave the story to its man at the White House David Gregory. He called the NIE's finding "an abrupt and sudden about face." George Bush's national security team had assumed that Teheran's work on missiles and uranium enrichment was part of a weapons program. Not so. "White House officials admit this new intelligence on Iran surfaced months ago" yet the President persisted in his dire warnings even as his spies vetted its veracity. Gregory quoted Bush this October: "If you are interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Gregory failed to make note of the crucial turn of phrase in Bush's formulation. He was no longer warning about Teheran's development or possession of a nuclear arsenal. Merely the "knowledge necessary" was dangerous enough. The President may have already been hinting back then that he was aware that Iran's weapons building was on hold.

As for the view from the Pentagon, CBS' David Martin observed that NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley "significantly downgraded the chances of military action" against Iran. ABC's Jonathan Karl concurred, calling the report "a remarkable turnaround" and finding it "virtually impossible that the United States would engage in military action against Iran."


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