WASHINGTON – Despite international pressure on Iran, the regime is “not close”
to giving up its quest for nuclear capabilities, a leading US intelligence
official said Thursday.
“Iran today has the technical, scientific and
industrial capability to eventually produce nuclear weapons,” Lt.- Gen. Ronald
Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the US Senate Armed
“While international pressure on Iran has increased,
including through sanctions, we assess that Tehran is not close to agreeing to
abandon its nuclear program.”
He also said that Iran had the capability
to close, “at least temporarily,” the Strait of Hormuz, a major passageway for
global oil shipments, and could launch missile strikes and terrorist attacks
against the US and its allies in retaliation for any attack on its nuclear
“However,” Burgess said, “The agency assesses Iran is
unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.”
National Intelligence James Clapper, who testified alongside Burgess Thursday,
said that Iran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear weapon, though it
was acquiring some of the means to do so.
“We believe that the decision
would be made by the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] himself and he would base
that decision on a cost-benefit analysis,” Clapper said. “I don’t think he’d
want a nuclear weapon at any price, so that I think plays to the value of
Several lawmakers who were questioning the intelligence
officials differed with the assessment.
“I’m very convinced that they’re
going down the road of developing a nuclear weapon,” Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R-South Carolina) said.
Clapper, though, said Iran would have to take
several steps it has so far not done to construct a nuclear weapon, though he
declined to specify what those steps were in an open session.
said that while he agreed with the assessment of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
that Iran could build a nuclear bomb within one year, it would likely take
He also echoed Panetta in saying that the intelligence community
did not think Israel had decided whether or not to strike Iranian nuclear sites,
despite speculation and a Washington Post column based on an interview with
Panetta that suggested an attack could come as early as April.
could have given rise to this is simply the fact that the weather becomes better
obviously in the spring and that could be conducive to an attack,” Clapper said.
“We do not believe they’ve made such a decision.”
He said the US and
Israel “largely agree” in their assessments of Iran’s nuclear
Clapper also pointed to growing cooperation between Iran and
al-Qaida, saying that Tehran has allowed the multinational terrorist outfit a
degree of sanctuary in Iran but not as a launch pad for attacks.
and al-Qaida have, to a certain extent, a shotgun marriage,” he said. “The
Iranians may think that they might use perhaps al-Qaida in the future as a
surrogate or proxy.”
In testimony before the House of Representatives on
Wednesday, Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that the US is
closely tracking Iran and all of its surrogates for potential attacks on
“We are constantly monitoring their activities around
the world,” she said. “Right now we have no specific or credible threat against
any organization or target in the United States, but this is certainly a
situation that bears watching.”
She noted that she has been conducting “a
lot of outreach” to US Jewish groups in particular, including holding conference
calls with Jewish leaders in the wake of recent attempted attacks on Jewish and
Israeli targets abroad.
A bipartisan groups of US senators, meanwhile,
rolled out a resolution on Thursday ruling out a strategy of containment for a
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also on
Thursday, passed a resolution condemning the violence in Syria.
a remarkable consensus in the Middle East that Bashar Assad is doomed, but the
end could still be many months away in what winds up a civil war,” committee
chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) said. “It was important for us to
make clear that Bashar Assad and his clique are to blame for the tragic violence
and condemn them for their brutality against their own people.
what we’ve done with this resolution.”
During his testimony before the
Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper said he didn’t know what would happen
to Syria after the ouster of Assad or who would take over.
But he warned,
“There would be kind of a vacuum I think that would lend itself to
He also said that he wasn’t sure whether the new Egyptian
government would honor the peace treaty with Israel, but that the decision would
hinge in large part on the process of transition and drafting a new
“I can’t foresee a circumstance where any civilian
government that emerges after [the transition] won’t at least a review the
treaty,” he said.
“How that will come out, we don’t know.”