http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/...4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/opinion/2007/12/07/do0703.xml Inside Abroad Within hours of Washington publishing its intelligence assessment on Iran's nuclear programme this week, President George W Bush got his White House staff to set up a video-conference with Gordon Brown in Downing Street. One of the myths that has attached itself to Mr Brown's premiership is that he no longer enjoys the same degree of contact with the President as did his predecessor. This is partly Mr Brown's fault, for he has gone out of his way to distance himself from the kind of chummy intimacy that Mr Blair obsessively sought with the occupants of the White House, be they Democrat or Republican. But while the tone might differ, Mr Brown does nevertheless have a solid working relationship with Mr Bush, and the two leaders are in regular contact. advertisement On Wednesday, the purpose of the President's call was to reassure the Prime Minister that Washington had not suddenly gone soft on Iran. Given Mr Brown's visceral and intellectual aversion to international conflict, it might seem somewhat perverse that the most bellicose President in modern history should feel obliged to reassure the pacifist-minded Mr Brown that America was not about to wimp out on the pressing security issue of our time - Iran's nuclear enrichment programme. But that was the unlikely position in which Mr Bush found himself after he authorised publication of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities; it drew radically different conclusions to the previous assessment of 2005. Back then, the assessment reported "with high confidence" that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons "despite its international obligations and international pressure". Two years later, the same intelligence agencies drop a diplomatic bombshell with their assessment that they now judge "with high confidence" that Teheran halted its nuclear weapons programme in autumn 2003. (Forget the fact that all the caveats in the report indicate that the world's best-resourced intelligence agencies haven't the faintest clue as to whether the Iranians intend to resume their illicit weapons programme, or even if they've managed to obtain a nuclear warhead on the black market - which might well explain Teheran's suspension of its programme.) The media blitz that followed, particularly in America, was concerned with only one issue: Iran was no longer trying to build an atom bomb, and the world was no longer obliged to go to war to prevent the ayatollahs from getting one. Just what led the 16 intelligence agencies that contributed to the NIE to alter their position so radically remains a mystery. Mr Bush would say only that it was based on "a great discovery", without elucidating further. But the word on the Washington blogosphere is that the Americans have picked up a high-ranking defector with access to the Iranian programme who has spilled the beans. In this respect, particular attention is now being paid to the mysterious disappearance in Turkey of Ali-Reza Asgari, Iran's deputy defence minister. That no one in the Western intelligence community wants to discuss Mr Asgari's fate or whereabouts speaks volumes. But even if the Americans have discovered a rich seam of intelligence to mine on Iran, the suspicion remains that the conciliatory attitude by Washington's security establishment reflects its deep-seated desire not to become mired in the turf wars that characterised the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, where the CIA and its sister agencies ended up carrying the can for the Administration's intelligence failings. Similar battle lines are being drawn up over Iran, only this time the realists are making all the running at the expense of the hawks. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, previously a hawk on Iraq, is the realists' unanointed figurehead, and has assembled a powerful coalition to thwart any attempt by the hawks, still led by Dick Cheney, to resolve the issue through force of arms. To the uninitiated, it looks as though Miss Rice's more measured approach has the ear of the President, and her view that any talk of military action would be deeply unhelpful has the public backing of Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, and Admiral William Fallon, the CentCom commander who would oversee any military strikes on Iran. Which makes the position of Vice-President Cheney look all the more isolated. Mr Cheney's supporters talk of him appearing downbeat at Oval Office meetings, and of having lost the confidence of the President. Mr Cheney recently voiced his objection to the Annapolis talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, and argued for tougher sanctions on Iran. But in both instances he was overruled by the President. Even so, it would be foolhardy to write off Mr Cheney's ability to influence events to his liking just yet, not least because, as Mr Bush stated after publication of the NIE, Iran remains a threat to global security, irrespective of whether its weapons programme is active or locked in cold storage. As Ron Prosor, the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to London, pointed out in his interview in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of international pressure and, if it maintains the current rate of progress, will have sufficient quantities of weapons grade uranium for an atom bomb by 2009. At that point, the outside world would be helpless to prevent Teheran building an atom bomb if the Iranians decided suddenly to resume their nuclear weapons programme. Somehow, irrespective of what the intelligence assessments might say, I can't see either Mr Bush or Mr Cheney allowing this doomsday scenario to unfold while they still have the power to prevent it.