The new United States National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 should cause the war drums to fall silent. Their beat should be replaced by the sound of diplomats talking to Tehran, The Dominion Post writes.
Dangerously, there is scant sign of that happening. President George W Bush and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak continue to insist that Iran remains a threat. Mr Bush says Iran is dangerous because it has the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon. "What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons programme?"
Mr Barak rejects the latest US finding, saying in Israel's estimation Iran is "apparently" continuing with its programme and that it is Israel's responsibility to "ensure that the right steps are taken against the Iranian regime". The Israeli view is that nothing has changed, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains a danger, and that Iran remains determined to develop the bomb, if not now then in a future that is too foreseeable for Israel to ignore.
The time has come for an end to rhetoric raising the spectre of World War III - something Mr Bush continued to do as recently as October even though he had by then been made aware of doubts the Iranians were pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. Unlike Mr Bush, the US intelligence agencies have learned from the weapons of mass destruction fiasco, where information that was just plain wrong was used to manufacture support for the Iraqi invasion, and where there was a rush to judgment - and to war - rather than careful consideration. Instead they have delivered a measured statement that talks of levels of confidence rather than certainties. The conclusion it draws that US and Israeli leaders should pay the most attention to is that Iran is a country run by rational leaders whose "decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs". Iran's policy is not being driven by "mad mullahs", as some wrongly believe. It is a country that should be negotiated with, not threatened with destruction.
The question now is what should happen in the wake of the revised assessment, and the chance it provides to both sides to revise their positions.
For its part, Tehran needs to accept that by hiding its enrichment programme for 18 years it created legitimate concerns over its intentions. Last month the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had made substantial progress in answering outstanding questions about its programme. That should continue, and Tehran should do what it needs to comply with the inspection regime the IAEA believes is necessary to establish confidence.
However, it is Mr Bush who needs to make the real shift in approach. He needs to start comprehensive talks with Iran and offer credible incentives rather than threats to encourage it to meet his concerns over its programme. He should make it clear to Israel that any action along the lines of its 1981 attack on an Iraqi nuclear plant is unacceptable and will carry serious consequences for US support. In short, he needs to do now what he should have done long ago - stop the bombast and start the diplomacy.
- The Dominion Post