The Wall Street Journal reports today that a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) by the US intelligence community concludes that Iran’s leadership is split over whether to develop nuclear weapons and locked in a heated internal debate on how to proceed with the country’s nuclear program in the face of international sanctions.
The new NIE, updating an older version prepared in 2007, says Iran likely has resumed work on nuclear weapons research in addition to its uranium enrichment program. The NIE, however, does not conclude that Iran has resumed a full-blown program to build the bomb [The Wall Street Journal, 17 February].
"The bottom line is that the intelligence community has concluded that there's an intense debate inside the Iranian regime on the question of whether or not to move toward a nuclear bomb," a US official told The Journal. "There's a strong sense that a number of Iranian regime officials know that the sanctions are having a serious effect."
An NIE is considered the consensus view of all US intelligence agencies. The director of National Intelligence reported the new assessment to Congress.
"We continue to assess Iran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons should it choose to do so," National Intelligence Director James Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons" [AP, 17 February].
"We see a disturbing confluence of events — an Iran that is increasingly rigid, autocratic, dependent on coercion to maintain control and defiant toward the West, and an Iran that continues to advance its uranium enrichment capabilities along with what appears to be the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if its leaders choose to do so," Clapper added.