Iran has not produced the highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon and has not decided to do so, U.S. intelligence officials told Congress yesterday, an assessment that contrasts with a stark Israeli warning days earlier that Iran has crossed the “technological threshold” in its pursuit of the bomb.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said that Iran has not decided to pursue the production of weapons-grade uranium and the parallel ability to load it onto a ballistic missile.
Blair’s testimony is consistent with the findings of the 2007 NIE on Iran and the reports from the IAEA, which would not be remarkable had his fellow administration officials — from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to President Obama himself — repeatedly contradicted those reports, and the statements of the top U.S. intelligence official.
LEVIN: There had been some confusion and I think some apparent inconsistencies in our assessment of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and their intent. It’s my understanding that uranium for civil nuclear power production has to be enriched from two to four percent but that highly enriched uranium which is necessary for a nuclear bomb or warhead, needs to be enriched to about 90 percent. Let me ask you first, director, does the intelligence community believe that as of this time Iran has any highly enriched uranium?
BLAIR: We assess now that Iran does not have any highly enriched uranium.
LEVIN: On March 1st, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen was asked if Iran has enough fissile material to make a bomb, and he said we think they do. Now that seems to be different from what you just said the intelligence community thinks, which is that you believe they do not. Have you talked to Admiral Mullen or what is the explanation for that apparent difference?
BLAIR: Mr. Chairman, Admiral Mullen later issued a clarification that he was referring to low enriched uranium, not highly enriched uranium.
LEVIN: Now does the intelligence community assess that Iran currently has made the decision to produce highly enriched uranium for a warhead or a bomb?
BLAIR: We assess that Iran has not yet made that decision.
LEVIN: And in 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that, quote, “The intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of 2007? Has that changed?
BLAIR: Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including a delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program the current position of the community is the same — that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not — has not started them again at least as of mid- 2007.
Later, in an exchange with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Blair dispelled the notion that Iran’s recent missile tests are an indication it is pursuing nuclear weapons:
MCCAIN: Last month, Iran successfully launched its first satellite into orbit. And President Ahmadinejad proclaimed in a televised speech the official presence of Islamic Republic was registered in space. Last Sunday, Iran tested a precision air-to-surface missile with a 70 mile range. Does that lead one to the conclusion that it’s pretty likely, or very likely, that Iran will be developing a nuclear weapon to go along with these weapons of delivery vehicles — development of delivery vehicles?BLAIR: I don’t think those missile developments, Senator McCain, prejudice the nuclear weapons decision one way or another. I believe those are separate decisions. The same missiles can launch vehicles into space, they can launch warheads, either conventional or nuclear, onto land targets. And Iran is pursuing those for those multiple purposes. Whether they develop a nuclear weapon, which could then be put in that warhead, I believe, is a separate decision which Iran has not made yet.