The Dec. 3 release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, stating that Iran stopped nuclear weapons-related testing in 2003 and has likely not restarted, has weakened the Bush administration’s position, making a U.S. attack on Iran less likely. However, the administration is still pushing sanctions and many warn that military conflict is not out of the question entirely.

Nevertheless, the central premise to Bush’s argument for confrontation, that Iran is enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons, has been removed, Robert Naiman, senior foreign policy analyst at Just Foreign Policy, told the World.

“The perception around the world overall,” Naiman said, “is that the danger of U.S. attack is significantly diminished.”

Nevertheless, he warned, “If we’re thinking of the Bush administration as being from now until January 2009, then there’s still plenty of time for folks in the administration to try to engineer a more heightened confrontation. There’s still a significant danger of military confrontation.”

Susan Udry, legislative director for United for Peace and Justice, told the World the peace coalition is pushing members of Congress to endorse a letter written by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) urging the president to “pursue real negotiations and diplomacy with Iran, rather than sanctions and threats.”

Udry said the new intelligence estimate “gives a boost to us, and more and more members are willing to speak out. You saw it in the comments of the Democratic presidential candidates.”

The intelligence estimate represents a consensus of all 16 U.S. spy agencies. Although its conclusions are relatively straightforward, administration officials have said they would make no significant change in policy on Iran. However, the report has clearly put the White House on the defensive.

Since the report came out, a number of Iranian “dissidents” have been brought forward, saying that Iran is, in fact, building nuclear weapons. Significantly, however, none of them are involved in the Iranian progressive or democratic movements. In addition, Israel immediately condemned the report, as did former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton and other war hawks.

Those who have criticized the intelligence estimate have never said, “we actually have concrete evidence” to the contrary, said Naiman. Their criticisms are likely politically motivated, he said.

The Bush administration has put forward a new proposal to put sanctions on Iran’s Quds Force and an Iranian bank and force “restraint” in selling or giving arms to Iran. Placing sanctions on a member state’s military force would be a highly unusual UN action.

The European Union appears headed to going along with the U.S. proposal.

But Russia took the intelligence report’s conclusions a step further. “The data possessed by our American partners, or at least the data shown to us,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Dec. 5, “give no reason to assume that Iran has ever pursued a military nuclear program.”

in a meeting between NATO ministers and Russia Dec. 8, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s rejection of any further UN sanctions on Iran. Both Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, had expressed reservations about a third round of sanctions against Iran even before the release of the NIE. The report seems to have sealed the fate of the sanctions, at least for the Security Council.

Many developing nations have expressed concern that the U.S. is still pushing for sanctions even though the U.S. intelligence community says the uranium being enriched in Iran is not part of a weapons program. The Bush administration’s position is seen as an attack on the right of all nations to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Bush’s harping on the nuclear issue is also seen as a pretext to exert greater U.S. domination of the region.

In a recent statement, Iran’s Tudeh (Communist) Party warned that the U.S.-led pressures against Iran over its nuclear technology “are only a cover for the U.S. attempts to secure control over an area of the Middle East that is best situated to control the production and export of energy resources.” The statement was also signed by dozens of left parties from around the world, including the Communist Party USA