Iran has made advances in enriching uranium and is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons, but it is unclear whether it has the political will to do so, the U.S. director of national intelligence said on Tuesday.
In written testimony to Congress, intelligence chief Dennis Blair said Iranian technical advancements backed up judgments in a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, that "Iran is technically capable of producing enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do."
"Iran's technical advancement, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthens our 2007 NIE assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons, making the central issue its political will to do so," Blair said.
"We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that bring it closer to being able to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," he added.
Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday Iran was ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel.
The U.N. nuclear agency has brokered a proposed deal under which Iran would send its low enriched uranium abroad in exchange for more highly enriched fuel to produce medical isotopes.
Western diplomats have said Iran has effectively turned down the proposal, saying it was not willing to send its low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing.
"We have no problem sending our enriched uranium abroad," Ahmadinejad told state television.
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency said last month a deal on uranium enrichment was still possible, but Iran said it wanted changes to the draft accord meant to allay Western fears over its nuclear program.
Western officials have stopped short of declaring the plan dead but said Tehran's approach had not been serious.
The United States, Britain, Germany and France have called for a fourth round of U.N. measures against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment activities as demanded by five Security Council resolutions.
Iran insists it has a sovereign right to produce nuclear fuel for what it says is a peaceful civilian atomic energy program. The West fears Tehran's program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
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