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Olmert: Don't snipe over Iran report

Israel's leader tells his cabinet to cool criticism, even as the nation tries to disprove findings.

JERUSALEM - Israel's prime minister told his cabinet yesterday to tone down criticism of a U.S. intelligence report that concluded that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's instructions - an attempt to keep the disagreement with its main ally from getting out of hand - came after one of his ministers warned that the report could trigger a war.

At the same time, Israeli officials said an intelligence delegation is in the United States to press Israel's case that Iran is still working on a nuclear bomb.

Israel considers Iran a serious threat because of its nuclear program, its development of long-range missiles, and calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The Israeli delegation left for the United States last week and will wind up its visit this week, the officials said. It was not known what material the team - for the most part military intelligence officers - is presenting to U.S. officials.

The Israelis are also hoping to receive additional information from the U.S. report, much of which was classified, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with reporters.

The United States and Israel will hold additional formal meetings on the matter in coming weeks, the Israeli officials said. Israel will use these forums to try to persuade the Americans that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and to present top-secret Israeli intelligence material, the officials said.

On Dec. 3, the American intelligence community issued a report that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate reversed years of warnings that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon.

Israeli officials discounted the conclusion.

At yesterday's weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert indirectly rebuked Public Security Minister Avi Dichter for publicly criticizing the U.S. report as a "misconception" that could lead to a surprise regional war.

"Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat," Dichter - a former head of Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency - said Saturday.

"The American misconception concerning Iran's nuclear weapons is liable to lead to a regional Yom Kippur where Israel will be among the countries that are threatened," Dichter said, referring to the 1973 war that started with a surprise Egyptian-Syrian attack.

Without mentioning Dichter by name, Olmert said, "These utterances don't advance the campaign against the Iranian nuclear program and don't improve relations with the U.S."