Iran can’t build nuke without tripping alarm bells, US says

Intelligence director James Clapper says Tehran still has not decided whether to pursue militarization of nuclear program

File: US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, accompanied by FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Susan Walsh)
File: US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, accompanied by FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran cannot enrich uranium to the point of being able to make a bomb without the international community finding out, a top US intelligence official said Tuesday while delivering an otherwise sobering report on worldwide threats.

National Intelligence director James Clapper told a Senate panel that Tehran is developing nuclear capabilities to enhance its security and influence and “give it the ability to develop a nuclear weapon.”

But the report stopped short of saying a decision has been made.

“We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” the report said.

Clapper explained that in the last year, Iran has made progress in working toward producing weapons-grade uranium. However, the report said Iran “could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of weapons-grade uranium before this activity is discovered.”

The assessment on Iran comes shortly before President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the world has until this summer — at the latest — to keep Tehran from building a bomb. The Israeli leader repeatedly has indicated Israel is willing to strike militarily to stop Iran, a step that would likely drag in the United States.

Clapper, testifying with newly installed CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Senate Intelligence Committee, also spoke about threats emanating from Syria and North Korea.

He said that both Iran and Syria had acquired ballistic missiles from Pyongyang

In Syria, President Bashar Assad’s inability to quash the uprising in his country increases the possibility that he will use chemical weapons against his people, Clapper said.

“We assess that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be prepared to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” he said. “In addition, groups or individuals in Syria could gain access to chemical weapons-related material.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence committee, described Syria as a “massive and still growing humanitarian disaster under way with no end in sight.”

The United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war, which started two years ago against Assad’s rule.

The report said terrorist threats are in transition with an increasingly decentralized global jihadist movement. The Arab Spring, however, has created a spike in threats to US interests in the region “that likely will endure until political upheaval stabilizes and security forces regain their capabilities.”

An unpredictable North Korea, with its nuclear weapons and missile programs, was touted as the most serious threat to the United States and East Asia nations.

The outlook on North Korea comes as the communist regime announced that it was “completely scrapping” the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and has maintained peace on the peninsula for more than half a century. The Obama administration on Monday slapped new sanctions against North Korea’s primary exchange bank and several senior government officials as it expressed concern about the North’s “bellicose rhetoric.”

“The Intelligence community has long assessed that, in Pyongyang’s view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy. We do not know Pyongyang’s nuclear doctrine or employment concepts,” Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Although we assess with low confidence that the North would only attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or allies to preserve the Kim regime, we do not know what would constitute, from the North’s perspective, crossing that threshold.”

North Korea, led by its young leader Kim Jong Un, has defied the international community in the last three months, testing an intercontinental ballistic missile and a third nuclear bomb.

“These programs demonstrate North Korea’s commitment to develop long-range missile technology that could pose a direct threat to the United States, and its efforts to produce and market ballistic missiles raise broader regional and global security concerns,” the report said.


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