As the dispute between Israel and the Obama administration over how to address the Iranian nuclear threat rages, a senior Jerusalem official has said Iran has made significant progress in developing the components for assembling a nuclear warhead.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said new intelligence obtained by the United States, Israel and other Western countries shows that the Iranian activity around the "weapon group" - the final stage in the development of a nuclear weapon - is progressing far beyond the scope known to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The new intelligence was introduced as a last-minute update to the special National Intelligence Estimate on the Iranian nuclear program that was submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama a week ago.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an interview with Israel Radio on Thursday, confirmed the report's existence and said its intelligence made taking action on Iran "more urgent."
A senior Jerusalem official said Iran has made significant progress in developing the components for assembling a nuclear warhead for a Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of 1,500 kilometers, allowing it to hit any part of Israel.
Over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "we currently still have time and space to allow for a diplomatic solution" in Iran. He said that if the Iranian regime begins to "to pursue breakout capacity" in its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Washington "would have time to respond to that as necessary."
Carney declined to comment on the Haaretz report about the New Intelligence Estimate, saying he does not comment on intelligence matters. He did, however, comment on Barak's remarks.
"We have the capacity ... to an awareness of the program in Iran," Carney told a White House press briefing on Thursday. He said the United States had "enough of an awareness ... that allows us to be sure that Iran has not begun to pursue breakout capacity and that we would have time to respond to that as necessary." He clarified later that he was referring to the IAEA's reports on Iran's nuclear program.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor also weighed in, saying over the weekend that according to American intelligence assessments, Iran is not on the verge of achieving nuclear weapons.
This week the Obama administration will hold talks with representatives of some of the countries of the international group on Iran's nuclear program. The head of the U.S. negotiating team, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, will go to Beijing, Moscow and London this week, in part in an effort to unstick the negotiations with Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet decided whether to attend the UN General Assembly in New York next month, although senior aides say he and his advisers are inclined to set out immediately after Yom Kippur so Netanyahu can address the assembly on September 27.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Friday asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to cancel his plans to take part in a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, scheduled to take place in Tehran later this month.
The Prime Minister's Office, reporting the phone call, said Netanyahu told Ban the trip would be a major mistake, even if it is made with good intentions.
"During your tenure as UN Secretary-General, you have acted fairly," Netanyahu told Ban, according to a statement on his office's website. "This is why I was so disappointed to hear about your intention to attend the non-aligned summit that will be held in Tehran at the end of the month.
"Even if it is not your intention, your visit will grant legitimacy to a regime that is the greatest threat to world peace and security. Not only does it threaten countries throughout the Middle East, not only is it the greatest terrorism exporter in the world, but it is impossible to exaggerate the danger it presents to Israel. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and openly declares its intention to destroy the State of Israel," he said.
"In spite of decisions by the UN Security Council, harsh sanctions and repeated proposals to reach a diplomatic solution, the Iranian regime ignores the international community, misleads inspectors and races to carry out its intention of equipping itself with nuclear weapons."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now