Isfahan uranium enrichment facility, Iran_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON - Iran is unlikely to move toward building a nuclear weapon this year because it does not yet have the capability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium, a draft report by the Institute for Science and International Security said on Wednesday.
The report by the institute founded by nuclear expert David Albright offered a more temperate view of Iran's nuclear program than some of the heated rhetoric that has surfaced since the United States and its allies stepped up sanctions on Tehran.
"Iran is unlikely to decide to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today," the report said.
The United States and Iran are engaged in a war of words over sanctions, with Iran threatening to retaliate by blocking oil shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States said it would not allow that to happen.
The escalating rhetoric and tensions have led to concerns about the potential for missteps between the adversaries that might spiral into a military confrontation that neither wants.
But the report, financed by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, said Iran had not made a decision to build a nuclear bomb. The USIP is an independent, non-partisan center created by the US Congress in 1984 that receives federal government funding.
"Iran is unlikely to break out in 2012, in great part because it is deterred from doing so," said the ISIS report, which has not yet been publicly released.
The report turns down the temperature, saying that sanctions and the fear of a military strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities have worked as a deterrent.
The institute has advised US and foreign governments about Iran's nuclear capabilities and Albright is considered a respected expert on the issue. The report tracks closely with what is known of official US government assessments.
US officials say Iran has not made the decision to build a nuclear weapon and that Iranian leaders haven't made the decision because they have to weigh the cost and benefits of building a nuclear weapon.
Much of what the Iranians are doing with their nuclear program has civilian uses, but they are keeping their options open, which significantly adds to the air of ambiguity, US officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Some conservative and Israeli analysts in the past have challenged these types of assessments, asserting that Iranian nuclear efforts are sufficiently advanced that they could build a bomb in a year or less.
But according to the institute's report: "Although Iran is engaged in nuclear hedging, no evidence has emerged that the regime has decided to build nuclear weapons."
"Such a decision may be unlikely to occur until Iran is first able to augment its enrichment capability to a point where it would have the ability to make weapon-grade uranium quickly and secretly," the report obtained by Reuters said.
It added that despite a report last November by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency alleging that Iran had made significant progress on nuclear weaponization, "Iran's essential challenge remains developing a secure capability to make enough weapon-grade uranium, likely for at least several nuclear weapons."
Some European intelligence officials have disputed a US National Intelligence Estimate published in 2003 which said that Iran had stopped working on a program it had launched earlier to design and build a bomb.
The Europeans maintain that Iran never stopped research and scientific development efforts which could be bomb-related.
Tensions spiked after Iran announced earlier this month that it had begun to enrich uranium deep inside an underground facility near the holy city of Qom. The secretly built facility was publicly revealed by the United States in 2009.