"There is reason to be concerned" about Iran's nuclear potential, President George W. Bush's science adviser, Prof. John Marburger III, said Sunday.
Marburger was a keynote speaker at a symposium held at Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fullbright Program, a scientific exchange program run by the US-Israel Educational Foundation in which over 2,500 Israelis and Americans have participated.
In a press briefing during the two-day symposium on "The State of US-Israel Scientific and Technological Cooperation" which concludes on Monday, Marburger added that "there are a lot of smart Iranians, and some of them studied in the US."
While adding that he was the White House science adviser, and had no inside military knowledge about Iran's nuclear weapons programs, he said he read in the media that "they are quite far away from developing nuclear weapons."
Marburger - a professor of physics and electrical engineering who was director of the Brookhaven National laboratory, and president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook - told science reporters that today it would be difficult for Iranians to study nuclear physics in the US, as everyone who applies for a student visa must be interviewed with local consular officials and explain exactly what they planned on learning.
Asked about embryonic stem cell research, in which the US has lagged considerably behind efforts abroad - including Israeli, where important discoveries have been made - Marburger defended Bush, saying that before the president set down guidelines for federal funding of such research, no federal money was spent on this field of research at all. It was true that the Bush administration limited federal funding embryonic stem cell research to existing cell lines which are aging, but private funding is filling the gap, Marburger said.
Marburger, a staunch Republican, said that the administration has not changed its views on embryonic stem cells, obtained from aborted fetuses and thus a controversial issue opposed by conservative Right-to-Life groups, because it was a "moral issue." But he recognized the fact that other countries, including Israel, did not regard it as problematic and continued their work because of the potential that embryonic stem cells could eventually prove to repair diseased tissues and organs.
He regretted the recent falsification of data by Korean scientists who made baseless claims about their "breakthroughs" in cloning technology, but noted that "humans are susceptible to temptation. I don't know how to prevent that... Every government that funds research has the responsibility to analyze projects that it finances to make sure it is of high quality and standards," said Marburger, who added that he was pleased to be in Israel for the second time after a gap of over 20 years. "I like being here; it's an exciting time... I hope the terrible differences among people in this region can be resolved."
A Science & Health Page feature on the symposium and those who attended it will appear on Sunday, April 30.