Iran Divided Over Atomic Work, U.S. Intel Report Asserts

(Feb. 17) -U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper speaks yesterday during a hearing before the Senate intelligence committee. Iran appears capable of generating sufficient nuclear material for a weapon within "the next few years," Clapper warned (Alex Wong/Getty Images).
(Feb. 17) -U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper speaks yesterday during a hearing before the Senate intelligence committee. Iran appears capable of generating sufficient nuclear material for a weapon within "the next few years," Clapper warned (Alex Wong/Getty Images).

Iran's leadership has grown more divided on the possibility of taking additional steps that could help the nation establish a nuclear deterrent, and international economic penalties might have contributed to the impasse, the Wall Street Journal today quoted a new U.S. intelligence community analysis as saying (see GSN, Feb. 16).

Iran has probably restarted nuclear weapons studies and enhanced its uranium enrichment program, but it has not necessarily undertaken a comprehensive bomb development effort, the confidential National Intelligence Estimate says. Washington and its allies have long suspected that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, an allegation the Middle Eastern state has consistently denied.

The intelligence report appears to reflect a belief in the United States that a number of top Iranian officials fear antigovernment sentiment might grow in response to their nation's faltering economy, a problem exacerbated by international penalties, according to the Journal.

"The bottom line is that the intelligence community has concluded that there's an intense debate inside the Iranian regime on the question of whether or not to move toward a nuclear bomb," said one U.S. government source. "There's a strong sense that a number of Iranian regime officials know that the sanctions are having a serious effect."

Such assertions might encourage the Obama administration to seek new means of increasing Iran's economic isolation, the newspaper said. The White House has not publicly addressed the new intelligence report.

The new assessment also signals an increasing level of certainty among Washington and its partners that international punitive measures and technical issues at Iranian atomic sites have created serious obstacles for the Persian Gulf nation's alleged nuclear warhead work, according to the Journal.

Officials in Washington said the report adjusts but does not contradict findings in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which asserted with "high confidence" that Tehran halted the nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and stated with "moderate confidence" that the effort had not been resumed.

Iran appears capable of generating a sufficient amount of weapon-grade uranium for a bomb "in the next few years," U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper yesterday told the Senate intelligence committee in another analysis (Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 17).

"We continue to assess Iran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons should it choose to do so,"

the Associated Press quoted Clapper as saying. "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

Addressing the new National Intelligence Estimate, he said: "We see a disturbing confluence of events -- an Iran that is increasingly rigid, autocratic, dependent on coercion to maintain control and defiant toward the West, and an Iran that continues to advance its uranium enrichment capabilities along with what appears to be the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if its leaders choose to do so."

The White House indicated its Iran policy was informed "by the fact that Iran has failed to demonstrate clearly peaceful nuclear intentions."

"Iran has engaged in a constant pattern of deception on its nuclear program," White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Iran has pursued its nuclear program in ways that only deepen the world's concerns, including by building a secret enrichment plant, enriching uranium to higher levels, and refusing to meet its international obligations" (Matthew Lee, Associated Press/Washington Post, Feb. 16).

Several members of Congress yesterday introduced a new bill that would force firms to declare dealings with Iran that are subject to penalties in quarterly and annual statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Agence France-Presse reported. The proposal would also mandate that U.S. financial institutions declare involvement in Iran by their foreign correspondent banks.

Eight firms quoted on Nasdaq Stock Market and the New York Stock Exchange are linked to entities doing business with Iran's energy industry, said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one sponsor of the bill (Agence France-Presse I/Spacedaily.com, Feb. 16).

Meanwhile, Turkey indicated it would work with Iran to develop a "road map" for addressing the standoff over Tehran's atomic activities, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported today.

"We agreed to come together to work on a new road map on nuclear energy. Turkey will continue to exert all facilitating efforts for a solution to this matter through diplomacy and dialogue," Turkey's Anatolia News Agency quoted President Abdullah Gul as saying.

Gul said senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and Turkish diplomats would participate in talks on the project, but the leader did not elaborate on the plan's potential contents (Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Earth Times, Feb. 17).

In Israel, footage of Iranian nuclear equipment damaged by the Stuxnet computer worm was included in a video shown during a Monday commemoration of Gabi Ashkenazi's four-year term as Israeli military chief, AFP reported. Israel and the United States are suspected of carrying out electronic strikes with the malware against Iranian atomic sites.

Israel's army "did not intend to elaborate," a military spokeswoman said.

The video shown at the event also displayed footage from the 2007 bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, Haaretz reported in a Hebrew-language story (see GSN, Feb. 16).

Jerusalem has not publicly said it was behind the strike, but a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable confirmed its involvement.

"On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor built by Syria secretly, apparently with North Korea's help," says the April 2008 document by then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. "We have good reason to believe that the reactor was not built for peaceful purposes," she said (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Feb. 16).

February 17, 2011
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Iran's leadership has grown more divided on the possibility of taking additional steps that could help the nation establish a nuclear deterrent, and international economic penalties might have contributed to the impasse, the Wall Street Journal today quoted a new U.S. intelligence community analysis as saying (see GSN, Feb. 16).

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