WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran still lacks weapons-grade highly enriched uranium and has not yet made a decision on whether to produce any, U.S. intelligence officials told Congress on Tuesday.
The officials — Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Michael Maples — also said recent Iranian missile tests were not directly related to its nuclear activities.
They said the two programs were believed to be on separate development tracks.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Blair had been asked to clarify recent conflicting statements from U.S. defense officials on Iran’s nuclear program.
Washington and some U.S. allies suspect Iran is seeking the ability to make a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its program is aimed at developing peaceful nuclear power only.
“We assess now that Iran does not have any highly enriched uranium,” Blair said. “We assess that Iran has not yet made that decision” to convert the low-enriched uranium it is making to weapons-grade material.
The officials said there was widespread agreement among U.S. intelligence agencies on the issue.
Blair said Israel had adopted more of a “worst-case” interpretation in concluding that Iran was further along in nuclear weapon development but this was based on the same facts as Washington was working with.
PROGRESS IN TECHNOLOGIES
A U.N. watchdog report last month said Iran had produced a stockpile of low-enriched uranium that may be big enough, analysts said, to make a nuclear bomb if it was converted into highly enriched uranium.
Making highly enriched uranium would require facilities Iran is not known to possess and there are other hurdles.
Maples said Iran’s launch in February of the Safir Space Launch Vehicle “shows progress” in technologies used to make intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But Blair said the nuclear and missile programs are “separate decisions” and both officials said they believed Iran had not yet made a decision on whether to proceed with a military nuclear program.
Russia, whose help the United States would like to enlist to limit any Iranian nuclear weapons program, has reason to be concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran, Blair said. That would in turn give Russia a reason to cooperate with U.S. aims to deploy missile defenses in Europe.
But, Blair said, “they also have an incentive in limiting (missile defense) cooperation.”
The Obama administration has said Russian help on Iran could limit the need for a missile defense. Russia opposes the missile defense system, seeing it is a threat rather than, as the United States says, a way to block strikes from states such as Iran.
The issue is at the center of a U.S. initiative to repair strained relations with Moscow. Blair said any negotiation on missile defenses would be “complex.”
(Editing by John O’Callaghan)
By Randall Mikkelsen
Tue Mar 10, 12:23 pm ET