Has Iran given up on ambitions to make nuclear weapons? That is the question dominating international media and American political debate today following the publication yesterday of the National Intelligence Estimate in Washington and led The World Tonight last night (which you can listen to here).
The NIE is the collective view of all the various intelligence agencies operated by the US government and carries considerable weight in the formulation of American foreign and security policy. The report says Iran did have a nuclear weapons programme but suspended it four years ago, though, the intelligence agencies believe, the Iranian government retains the option to restart its programme.
On The World Tonight, we have been criticised by listeners in the past for viewing the world from an American perspective - something I have blogged on before. But whether the US intelligence agencies are right or wrong about Iran - and since the failure to find evidence of a current chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programme in Iraq following the invasion of 2003 we know intelligence agencies are fallible - I believe the report is worth the attention it's getting because it feeds so directly into US policy-making.
To try to get the most balanced perspective we could last night we turned to the Iranian analyst, Abbas Milani, who is now based at Stanford University in California. He pointed out that both Tehran and Washington would probably cherry-pick the report and claim it bolstered their position - this has been borne out today with statements coming from the two capitals - but he said it does neither.
Iran has denied it intends to make nuclear weapons and insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. But Professor Milani said it is probable that Iran did have a weapons programme and may well have suspended it in 2003 when the US invaded Iraq and defeated the Iraqi army which the Iranians were unable to defeat in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s - something that could have given Tehran pause for thought.
On the American side, as recently as six weeks ago, President Bush said that anyone interested in preventing World War III should be worried about Iran's nuclear programme and senior US officials have given the impression that Iran's nuclear ambitions are an imminent threat, so this report should give policy makers in Washington pause for thought too.
The BBC's North America editor, Justin Webb, has blogged on this too and he wonders whether this impression may have been what motivated the intelligence agencies in framing this report. Our presenter, Robin Lustig, has also taken a close interest in US/Iran relations on his blog.
The report - like all intelligence - will inform, but not determine, policy towards Iran. After all it's politicians who make policy, not intelligence agents.
Our sister programme, The World at One, had a go earlier at trying to find out how this report may affect British policy - Britain being one of the three EU countries (along with Germany and France) who are leading negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme. The foreign secretary, David Miliband, was cautious though. He refused to commit, saying Britain would study the report but make its own intelligence assessments, but he said the report fits into the wider strategy of negotiating, and offering carrots and threatening tougher sanctions on Iran to try to get Tehran to agree not to continue enriching uranium.
As with any story that involves intelligence as well as trying to interpret what is going on behind closed doors in Western capitals as well as Tehran, we will continue to ask questions of all sides and look at this issue from the perspectives of all sides to try to help make sense of what is going on. I hope we can shed some light.