Key U.S. Findings on Iran Nuclear Program Unchanged, Insiders Say

A technician works at Iran’s Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2007.  The United States continues to believe that Iran is not close to possessing a nuclear weapon and that its leaders have not officially committed to obtaining one, Obama administration sources said on Thursday (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).
A technician works at Iran’s Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2007. The United States continues to believe that Iran is not close to possessing a nuclear weapon and that its leaders have not officially committed to obtaining one, Obama administration sources said on Thursday (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

Obama administration sources on Thursday denied any alterations to the U.S. intelligence determination that Iran is not close to possessing a nuclear weapon and that its leaders have not formally committed to acquiring such an armament, Reuters reported (see GSN, Aug. 9).

An Israeli newspaper this week said President Obama had received a National Intelligence Estimate asserting that Iran had achieved major, unexpected steps in weapon-relevant atomic endeavors. The United States, Israel and a number of European nations suspect Iran is using its atomic program as cover for development of a nuclear-bomb capacity; Tehran has maintained the effort is strictly peaceful.

The Israeli press claims are inaccurate, according to a White House National Security Council spokesman.

The official said U.S. findings on Iran's atomic initiative have remained consistent following statements issued to lawmakers by intelligence authorities previously in 2012. The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies indicated they do not believe Iran's leaders have made an official decision to seek a nuclear weapon.

"We believe that there is time and space to continue to pursue a diplomatic path, backed by growing international pressure on the Iranian government," the White House spokesman stated. "We continue to assess that Iran is not on the verge of achieving a nuclear weapon."

Comments from government personnel did not clarify whether the U.S. intelligence community had delivered another National Intelligence Estimate summarizing its shared judgments pertaining to the Persian Gulf regional power. The most recent prior reports of such an analysis are from 2011 (see GSN, Feb. 17, 2011).

The U.S. document described this week is not necessarily a National Intelligence Estimate, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated. The paper "transforms the Iranian situation into an even more urgent one," he added (Reuters I, Aug. 9).

A U.S. intelligence report asserts Tehran has advanced a bid to reduce an atomic payload's size to one suitable for loading onto a missile, CNN on Thursday quoted Israeli government personnel as saying. Tehran has also made strides in preparing extended-distance firing platforms and other technology for carrying an armament to a target, according to the sources, who said U.S. personnel had allowed them to view the document (Elise Labott, CNN, Aug. 9).

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday declined to directly address Barak's claim of new U.S. findings on Iran "being passed around senior offices," Haaretz reported.

Carney said he could not "comment on intelligence matters or intelligence reports the president may or may not have received."

"I can tell you that the president remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and that we are leading an international effort to impose upon Iran what even the Iranian president has identified as the most stringent sanctions ever imposed on any country," the spokesman said.

Washington is still seeking to resolve the standoff through dialogue and economic penalties for the limited period in which such measures might still prove fruitful, he added.

President Obama has "led an effort to isolate and pressure Iran that is unprecedented, that we absolutely share Israel's, as well as other countries' concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions," Carney said (Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, Aug. 9).

An Israeli newspaper on Friday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister are "determined" to launch an armed offensive against Iran this fall, Agence France-Presse reported.

If the decision were left to Netanyahu and Barak, the leaders would probably authorize such a move prior to the conclusion of the U.S. presidential race,Yediot Aharonot said.

Still, the potential action lacks support from any other top Israeli government insider in the armed forces and other branches, according to the newspaper (Agence France-Presse/al-Ahram, Aug. 10). An effort by Netanyahu and Barak to win colleagues over to their side did not succeed amid military concerns about battlefield and broader-level obstacles such a mission would involve, Reuters quoted the article as saying.

An Israeli military move prior to November could humiliate Obama and bolster the electoral prospects of his main opponent, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Yediot Aharonot quoted unidentified official consultants in Washington and Tel Aviv as saying.

Any unilateral Israeli armed move against Iran would be intended to bring the United States into the conflict, a goal Barak has denied, the newspaper said (Dan Williams, Reuters II, Aug. 10).

The Israeli defense chief on Thursday played down a purported assertion that Saudi Arabia could fire upon Israeli planes attempting to traverse Saudi territory during a mission against Iran, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Barak informed Israel Radio he was "not aware of such a warning and did not receive one from the Americans" (Xinhua News Agency, Aug. 9).

The Obama administration on Friday issued economic penalties against Syria's government-managed petroleum firm for doing energy trade with Iran, the U.S. State Department said.

"In April of this year, Syria and Iran engaged in two-way trade in the energy sector, in which Syria sent 33,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in released comments. "The United States has determined that the value of the gasoline delivered by Sytrol to Iran in April was over $36 million, significantly exceeding the monetary thresholds for triggering sanctions under" the Iran Sanctions Act, "($1 million threshold for individual transactions and the $5 million threshold for multiple transactions within a 12-month period under U.S. law). This kind of trade allows Iran to continue developing its nuclear program while providing the Syrian government with resources to oppress its own people."

The department lashed Tehran for aiding via material goods and other means the Syrian government's attempts to crush the armed rebellion against the Assad regime (U.S. State Department release, Aug. 10).

Meanwhile, Iran's acting navy leader said the "agenda" of his nation does not include the creation of ship-based atomic power technology or high-purity uranium fuel for such systems, though Iran is technically suited to manufacture both, the Associated Press reported. Weapon-usable uranium has an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent, and atomic submarine fuel has enrichment levels ranging between 20 percent and more than 90 percent, according to earlier reports.

The United States intends to intimidate Tehran through a sea-based exercise slated for next month in the area, but an armed clash is improbable, Rear Adm. Gohlamreza Khadem Bigham added in remarks quoted by the Iranian Students' News Agency (Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, Aug. 9).

Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Thursday said the European Union's top diplomat would respond in August to proposals by Tehran, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.

Iranian diplomats articulated their position on "the nuclear issue" during a June discussion in Moscow with high-level delegates from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Jalili said. It was the third such meeting between high-level delegates seeking a resolution to the nuclear standoff.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "asked for some time to provide an answer for Iran after the month of Ramadan (ending on Aug.19)," he stated.

"Iran has a clear view in this regard and it believes in 'nuclear science for all and nuclear weapons for no one within the framework of the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty],'" Jalili said. "We raised this view in the nuclear talks in Baghdad and Moscow and we released the contents of what we said in Moscow."

Tehran has indicated it would join the six governments this month for another atomic discussion (see GSN, Aug. 3; Fars News Agency, Aug. 9).

Elsewhere, the Kaspersky Lab in Russia has identified an electronic attack mechanism it tied "with a high degree of certainty" to the Flame and Stuxnet malware programs that harmed operations in Iran, AP reported on Thursday.

The "Gauss" virus -- designed to gather client data from banks in Lebanon -- is similar to the latter two programs in its programming, design and activities, the cybersecurity group said in an analysis. Stuxnet and Flame had ties to a joint effort by Washington and Tel Aviv to target Iran's nuclear activities, the New York Times and Washington Post indicated previously.

It was uncertain, though, how the newly discovered malware would support such an effort, according to AP (Raphael Satter, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, Aug. 9).

Kaspersky global research and analysis head Costin Raiu said “there is absolutely no doubt that Gauss and Flame were printed by the same factories," the Times reported.

“An early version of Stuxnet used a module from Flame, which shows they are connected. Stuxnet was created by a nation-state -- it simply could not have been designed without nation-state support — which means Flame and Gauss were created with nation-state support as well,” he said (Nicole Perlroth, New York Times, Aug. 9).

Gauss has turned up on 2,500 computers, most of which are in Lebanon, United Press International reported on Thursday (United Press International, Aug. 9).

Separately, Russia would harden its stance over Iranian atomic activities unless the Middle Eastern nation ends a legal action over Moscow's cancellation of an S-300 air defense technology delivery, Russia Today on Friday quoted a Kremlin insider as saying.

Experts previously suggested the system could help Iran protect its atomic installations from potential airstrikes. Tehran has disputed Russia's position that a 2010 Security Council sanctions resolution bars transfer of the armaments under an earlier contract.

"We have already made it clear to Iran that lawsuits are not helping the development of our relations,” said the source tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But our requests to retract these documents from court went unnoticed.

"Prior to the next session of the six international mediators, we will try to make our position heard once again by sending a government delegation to Tehran,” the insider told the Russian newspaper Kommersant. “And if Iran once again refuses to do so, it will have to sort out its nuclear issues in the international arena on its own"
(Russia Today, Aug. 10).

August 10, 2012

Obama administration sources on Thursday denied any alterations to the U.S. intelligence determination that Iran is not close to possessing a nuclear weapon and that its leaders have not formally committed to acquiring such an armament, Reuters reported.