The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said Thursday that Iran is not close to abandoning its nuclear program, but is also unlikely to intentionally provoke conflict.
According to Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the agency, Iran has the "technical, scientific and industrial capability to eventually produce nuclear weapons." The ballistic missiles it is currently developing could reach distances across the region and as far as Central Europe, said Burgess. He added that Iran could seek to engage terrorist proxies worldwide.
Burgess spoke at a Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee dedicated to the Worldwide Threats to the National Security of the United States.
Burgess said that despite growing international pressure on Iran, it is "not close" to agreeing to abandon its nuclear program, but added that "the agency assesses Iran as unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict."
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said the U.S. was confident that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, should its leaders – particularly the Supreme Leader – choose to do so. Iran's technical advances, particularly in uranium enrichment, strengthen that assessment, said Clapper.
"We believe the decision would be made by the Supreme Leader himself, and he would base that on a cost-benefit analysis," said Clapper, adding, "I don't think you want a nuclear weapon at any price."
Clapper went on to say that sanctions were an effective way of inducing change in Iran's policy and behavior. The Iranian leadership has not yet finalized a decision to make the bomb, said Clapper, and would not be prepared to make it at any cost, so sanctions could still work if Tehran felt the stability of the regime was threatened.
Clapper agreed with the assessment of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that it would probably take one year for Iran to produce a bomb, "and then possibly another one or two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort," but added that it might take even longer. "It is technically feasible but practically not likely," said Clapper. "There are all kinds of combinations and permutations that could affect how long it might take, should the Iranians make a decision to pursue a nuclear weapon, however long that might take."
The Director of National Intelligence also referred to Israel, saying the U.S. does not believe Jerusalem has made a decision yet to strike Iran. Responding to reports that Israel might strike in spring, he said, "What could have given rise to this is simply the fact that the
weather becomes better, obviously, in the spring, and that could be conducive to an attack. But we do not believe they made such a decision."
Clapper added that he will be flying to Israel next week to discuss a potential strike on Iran with Israeli intelligence officials.