Washington: Iran still pursuing nuclear bomb

Obama says Iran "developing nuclear weapon"; US official tells 'LA Times' NIE report was inaccurate.

Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Departing from an intelligence estimate published just over a year ago, the Obama administration made it clear that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. The report cited a news conference this week in which US President Barack Obama mentioned Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon" before correcting himself and saying that the Islamic Republic was merely "pursuing" the bomb. The harsher terminology reflects the degree to which senior US officials have rejected the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which said Iran had discontinued its military nuclear program in 2003, the report said. "When you're talking about negotiations in Iran, it is dangerous to appear weak or naive," said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear weapons expert and president of an anti-proliferation organization based in Washington, telling the paper that Obama's unambiguous stance ensured that he would not be blamed for "underestimating Iran." Obama said Monday his administration was looking for opportunities to open direct talks with Iran, but that years of mistrust would be hard to overcome. US officials were quoted by the paper as saying the change in policy did not stem from any new evidence but rather from a "growing consensus" that the 2007 report was misleading and did not convey the urgency of the situation - that Iran is on the verge of reaching important milestones towards producing a nuclear bomb. Obama's senior intelligence official was slated to address concerns over Teheran's nuclear drive in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. "Teheran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005," stated the unclassified summary of the NIE report. At the time, an Israeli government official had said there was enough evidence in it to "factually support our most grave concerns about the Iranian nuclear program." According to the official, the report said Iran did have a military nuclear program up until 2003, at a time when the country had a more moderate president than its current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though they vociferously denied a nuclear weapons program at the time. "This just shows they were lying all along," the official said. The report was instrumental in holding up efforts by the US and Europe to induce Iran to freeze its nuclear program. According to recent assessments, Iran's enrichment program will enrich enough uranium to produce a bomb by the end of 2009. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.