US official: Iran retains nuclear capabilities

Top US spy official says enrichment plant "most important" component of future atomic program.

iran nuclear new 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
iran nuclear new 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US intelligence report showing Iran froze weapons development in 2003 does not show the full picture, a top US intelligence official told Congress on Thursday. The deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told a House of Representatives Intelligence subcommittee that Iran retains key nuclear capabilities despite having frozen its weapons development and its ambitions could be considered benign, Reuters reported. Kerr said there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons. He was responding to a Republican lawmaker who questioned the accuracy of an official National Intelligence Estimate this week that said US agencies did not know whether Iran intended to develop a nuclear weapon. Kerr went on to say that Iran still had the "most important" component of a future atomic program, a uranium-enrichment plant, explaining that that the enrichment facility, as well as Iran's civil nuclear power program, could provide important expertise. Iran also was working on ballistic missiles, Kerr added. "We did not in any way suggest that Iran was benign for the future," Kerr told the panel. "What we had to do was address the evidence we had, that at least a part of their program (was) suspended in 2003." Kerr noted the assessment also concluded with "moderate confidence" that Iran still wants a future weapons capability. US Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican, told Kerr he was puzzled by the new intelligence estimate. "We have this sort of dichotomy, the words and actions from Iran seem to be offset by the National Intelligence Estimate," Tiahrt said. He suggested US intelligence agencies had gotten too big at their headquarters and not put enough agents in the field. In response, Kerr said that the new report was one of the most comprehensive National Intelligence Estimates ever, with more than 1,000 "source notes." He also said it had benefited from reforms and restructurings in US intelligence agencies since the September 11 attacks and a flawed pre-war estimate on Iraqi weapons. The estimate's findings were subjected to rigorous challenges and tests of alternative explanations, he said.