A new report from United States intelligence agencies has undermined those close to the White House who have been arguing for unilateral military action against Iran by saying that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
The findings, issued yesterday (3 December 2007), disclosed for the first time that Iran has not been pursuing a nuclear weapons development programme for the past four years.
The secret report was declassified over the past 48 hours and made available to the media. It constitutes a significant shift from previous estimates.
"Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons programme suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," the report says.
The intelligence agencies are not saying that there is no nuclear problem however; just that what some analysts have been calling 'the crunch point' is years rather than months away.
The report's findings will be a boost to those in Europe, including France and Germany, who have long argued that continued political and diplomatic dialogue and pressure is a better way forward on Iran than sabre-rattling.
Religious groups, too, have been seeking a peaceful but forthright conversation with their counterparts in Iran, with one Mennonite-galvanised delegation of church leaders going to Tehran earlier in the year and reporting an openness to conversation.
Those wanting to pursue jaw rather than war stress that it is not a 'soft option', however, and that issues of human rights, militarisation, democratic freedoms and the mistreatment of religious and other minorities remain very much 'on the table'.
The new intelligence findings are unlikely to silence neocon hard-liners in the USA, including ex-ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who has regularly mocked diplomacy and called for bombing.
He and others will claim the findings as a triumph for military pressure, though experts say that the chronology and complexity of the situation does not easily bear this out.