CIA Chief: No Evidence Iran Has Made Decision to Weaponize Nuclear Program

These comments come after senior Israeli officials issuing explicit threats over Iran's nuclear program, most notably from Mossad chief David Barnea

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, in June.
Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, in June.Credit: EU Delegation in Vienna / Reuters
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns on Monday said that the U.S. has not seen any evidence that Iran has made a decision to pursue obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Addressing the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, Burns said that the CIA "doesn't see any evidence that Iran's Supreme Leader has made a decision to move to weaponize." He also echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken's takeaways from last week's unsuccessful round of negotiations in Vienna on saving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, noting that "the Iranians have not been taking the negotiation seriously at this point." He added that "we'll see soon enough about how serious they are."

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Iranian media reported Tuesday that the indirect Vienna talks are slated to resume on Thursday, Reuters reported. U.S. officials have yet to confirm this report.

"We will continue the talks on Thursday ... and await practical steps by the West," Iran's top negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani was quoted as telling Iranian media during a visit to Moscow by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

CIA Director William Burns on Capitol Hill in Washington, in February.Credit: Tom Williams / Reuters

Israeli officials believe Iran could be weeks away from enriching uranium to a level sufficient for building a nuclear weapon. The amount of uranium Iran has already enriched to 20-percent purity is critical, because when it reaches a certain threshold – known as "the significant quantity" – that stockpile can rapidly be enriched to the 90-percent purity needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran possessing a stockpile of 220 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium would mean it had reached said quantity.

Burns' comments come in the wake of senior Israeli officials issuing explicit threats over Iran's nuclear program, most notably from Mossad chief David Barnea, who is currently in Washington to meet with Burns and other senior U.S. officials. Defense Minister Benny Gantz is also slated to arrive in Washington later this week, where Iran will be the focal point of his meetings with Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Israeli officials hope to persuade the U.S. to both avoid returning to the 2015 deal and declining a partial interim agreement, but instead to intensify sanctions while presenting an explicit, credible military threat. AIPAC — the powerful pro-Israel lobby that led the charge against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — is also pushing a harder line with the Biden administration, calling for enhanced diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran.

Despite Israeli officials' rebukes of U.S. posture toward the Iran nuclear talks, a senior U.S. State Department official last week stressed that U.S.-Israel coordination regarding the deal remains strong.

"I think we may have some differences – well, that’s natural, and we understand that we are situated differently, we have different ways sometimes of approaching it," the official said. "Our goal remains the same, and our goal is absolutely resolute that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon," he said, adding they "are fully aligned with Israel" on the matter.

The State Department official also highlighted the growing number of former senior Israeli officials who have criticized the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

"The conversations we’re having with Israel are always interesting, always important, and we strive to remain as transparent and as well-coordinated with Israel as possible," the official said, "but it is taking place against a backdrop that I think we all need to take into account, which is to learn the lessons of the preceding three years, what it has meant for Iran’s program, and how it has put us in this very difficult situation where Iran is continuing to accelerate its nuclear program, and we have to face difficult decisions if Iran is not prepared to come back into compliance with the deal."

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