Yesterday the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report that warned that it has evidence that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead. This is the first time the IAEA has suggested that Tehran had either resumed such work or in fact had never stopped, as U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded in a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. The draft report (pdf) cited undisclosed evidence that “raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

The report also noted that Iran had stonewalled IAEA efforts to discuss issues related to nuclear weapons work since August 2008 and confirmed that Iran had enriched uranium to a level of 19.8 percent, which is a major step toward producing weapons-grade uranium, despite repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that they stop these and other nuclear activities.

The new report, which included the U.N. agency’s strongest language to date concerning Iran’s suspicious nuclear activities, was the first prepared under the leadership of new IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. Amano last year replaced former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who repeatedly undermined western efforts to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program and earned a reputation as the “nuclear watchdog that didn’t bark.

The Obama Administration urged Iran to publicly address issues highlighted in the report. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley complained that “We cannot explain why it refuses to come to the table and engage constructively to answer questions that have been raised.”

One senior administration official who briefed reporters on the report underscored that the findings showed that Iran’s “pattern of behavior is one that is very disturbing.” Another anonymous senior official told The New York Times that Iran’s actions described in the report “almost suggest the Iranian military is inviting a confrontation.”

But Tehran may believe that such a confrontation is unlikely with the Obama Administration, which continues to cling to its failed engagement strategy. Earlier this week Vice President Joseph Biden went out of his way to downplay Iran’s nuclear threat. And on February 17, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Al-Arabiya television that “Obviously, we don’t want Iran to become a nuclear weapons power, but we are not planning anything other than going for sanctions.”

The new IAEA report provided fresh evidence contradicting the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program that concluded that Iran had suspended weaponization activities in 2003. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican member on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, called for a review of the flawed 2007 NIE by outside experts:

When the IAEA, a United Nations body, is issuing reports that are more definitive than the US intelligence community, something is clearly wrong. The solution is to set up a “Red Team” of non-government experts to review US intelligence on an Iranian nuclear weapons program and issue an independent report. There is precedent for such an outside review which I believe would help improve and restore confidence in U.S. intelligence analysis.

For more on Iran, see: Iran Briefing Room