U.S. does not believe Iran tries to build nuclear bomb

U.S. does not believe Iran tries to build nuclear bomb

The latest U.S. intelligence report indicates Iran is pursuing research that could enable it to build a nuclear weapon, but that it has not sought to do so, LA Times reported.

As U.S. and Israeli officials talk publicly about the prospect of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, one fact is often overlooked: U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb.

A highly classified U.S. intelligence assessment circulated to policymakers early last year largely affirms that view, originally made in 2007. Both reports, known as national intelligence estimates, conclude that Tehran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003.

The most recent report, which represents the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, indicates that Iran is pursuing research that could put it in a position to build a weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.

Although Iran continues to enrich uranium at low levels, U.S. officials say they have not seen evidence that has caused them to significantly revise that judgment. Senior U.S. officials say Israel does not dispute the basic intelligence or analysis.

But Israel appears to have a lower threshold for action than Washington. It regards Iran as a threat to its existence and says it will not allow Iran to become capable of building and delivering a nuclear weapon. Some Israeli officials have raised the prospect of a military strike to stop Iran before it's too late.

Iran barred inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog group, from visiting Parchin, a military site, this week to determine whether explosives tests were aimed at developing nuclear technology. An IAEA report in November cited "serious concerns" about "possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," but did not reach hard conclusions. Another IAEA report is imminent.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted Wednesday that Tehran had no intention of producing nuclear weapons. In remarks broadcast on state television, he said that "owning a nuclear weapon is a big sin."

But he said that "pressure, sanctions and assassinations" would not stop Iran from producing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. For now, U.S. military and intelligence officials say they don't believe Iran's leadership has made the decision to build a bomb.

It is not known precisely what other technical hurdles Iran would have to overcome, but many experts believe that if it decides to proceed, the country has the scientific knowledge to design and build a crude working bomb in as little as a year. It would take as long as three years,.

Some developments have bolstered the view that Iran is secretly pursuing a weapon. In 2009, Western intelligence agencies discovered a clandestine underground facility called Fordow, near the city of Qom, that is said to be capable of housing 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Israel worries that such facilities may be invulnerable to conventional bombing if Iran begins building a weapon. Israeli officials have warned that Iran could create what they call a "zone of immunity" by year's end.

U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear ambitions has vacillated over the years. After Iranian dissidents exposed a long-hidden program in 2002, U.S. intelligence warned that Tehran was "determined to build nuclear weapons."

Edited by: S. Isayev

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