Obama Administration Expresses Certainty of Iranian Nuclear Bomb Intent

(Feb. 12) -CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta last week said there is “no question” that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability (Paul Richards/Getty Images).
(Feb. 12) -CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta last week said there is “no question” that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability (Paul Richards/Getty Images).

High-level members of the Obama administration have voiced conviction that Iran is determined to acquire a nuclear weapon, largely discounting a 2007 intelligence finding that the Middle Eastern state halted its formal bomb development efforts more than five years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported today (see GSN, Feb. 11).

The National Intelligence Estimate asserted that while Iran continued to pursue ballistic missile capabilities and a uranium enrichment program that could produce a key nuclear-bomb ingredient, the nation in 2003 halted efforts geared toward "weaponizing" bomb material in a warhead. Tehran had denied that its nuclear program ever had a military component.

President Barack Obama criticized Iranian leaders this week for "their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon" (see GSN, Feb. 10).

Answering a question on Iran last week, CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta said, "From all the information that I've seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability" (see GSN, Feb. 6). National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair is set to discuss Iran's atomic activities in Senate testimony today.

The administration's strong statements might be aimed at precluding debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions as Washington prepares some sort of diplomatic engagement with Tehran, experts said.

"When you're talking about negotiations in Iran, it is dangerous to appear weak or naive. It guards against criticism from the right that the administration is underestimating Iran," said Ploughshares Fund head Joseph Cirincione.

Iran's nuclear program has "made more progress in the last five years than in the previous 10," he added (Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12).

Meanwhile, analysts yesterday reaffirmed earlier reports that Iran might be running out of unrefined yellowcake uranium for its nuclear program, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Jan. 30).

Iran has used roughly three-fourths of a 600-metric-ton uranium supply it received from South Africa in the 1970s, according to a report published yesterday by the Institute for Science and International Security.

The country's two uranium mines do not produce enough uranium to fuel one nuclear power reactor, the study concludes.

"The current uranium ore shortfall illustrates a fundamental inconsistency between Iran's stated intentions -- a commercially viable, indigenously fueled, civil nuclear power industry and its capabilities," the report states.

"If Iran's objective is a latent nuclear weapons capability, it need not invest resources in the further development of its mining industry. But if it wants to meet the requirements of even a single Bushehr-type reactor, it will need to do much more to develop its own indigenous mining capabilities, or settle its differences with the international community so that it can import sufficient quantities of yellowcake," it says (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Feb. 11).

Iran yesterday dismissed reports that its yellowcake supply is dwindling, the Associated Press reported.

The claims are "media speculation without any scientific basis," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said (Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press I/International Herald Tribune, Feb. 11).

Elsewhere, Israeli hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu's strong performance at the polls Tuesday could complicate Obama's drive to reach out to Iran, according to AP. Netanyahu today appeared to have the edge over centrist rival Tzipi Livni to put together a coalition government that he would lead as prime minister (Barry Schweid, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, Feb. 12).

The political realignment could make Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear facilities more likely, one expert said.

"It ratchets up the pressure on the Obama administration to keep Israel in line over Iran," said Mike Williams, a University of London expert who advised Obama's campaign team on foreign policy. "The major concern for the U.S. is that Israel will start a military operation it can't finish and Washington would have to mop up afterward. The Israelis don't have the technology to effectively retard the Iranian nuclear program" (see GSN, Oct. 27, 2008; Gregory Katz, Associated Press III/International Herald Tribune, Feb. 11).

The Israeli political transition would not affect U.S.-Iranian talks, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis said.

"Both the Israelis and we have a mutual interest in trying a diplomatic effort to stop their programs," he said, adding that "Obama will have to decide what to do" if economic penalties and diplomatic outreach fail to curb Iran's disputed nuclear activities (Schweid, AP II).

February 12, 2009
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High-level members of the Obama administration have voiced conviction that Iran is determined to acquire a nuclear weapon, largely discounting a 2007 intelligence finding that the Middle Eastern state halted its formal bomb development efforts more than five years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported today (see GSN, Feb. 11).

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