That was the year they closed in on A Q Khan
According to the consensus view of the American intelligence community, contained in a national intelligence estimate that was made public this week, “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work”.
That, mercifully, is the first step in a process that should put an end to the prospect of a US-Iran war.
Dan Drezner, who has more on the issue, asks “why did the suspension take place in 2003 rather than later? I mean, gee, what was happening then?”. Here’s a guess: it was in 2003 that the United States began to crack down and disrupt A Q Khan’s network. In December of that year two of Khan Research Laboratories’ top officials were arrested for assisting Iran.
It might be that the international pressure didn’t work on the demand side at all. Rather, it could just have disrupted the supply.
BTW: It’s amusing to see that the authors of the NIE need to point out that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs”. It reveals as much about the American policy mindset as it does about Iran’s.