"Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead," states a Reuters special report released today. The report, citing breaking intelligence from current and former US officials, outlines the less than dramatic realities of Iran's nuclear program, running counter to many US and Israeli claims that Iran has imminent nuclear weapon capabilities. Such had been the desired justification for a joint attack on Iran.
Should Iran ever decide to build a nuclear weapon, it would take many 'years' -- contrary to Israel's claim that Iran will have a bomb within one year, the report emphasizes.
Current and former U.S. officials say they are confident that Iran has no secret uranium-enrichment site outside the purview of U.N. nuclear inspections.
They also have confidence that any Iranian move toward building a functional nuclear weapon would be detected long before a bomb was made.
These intelligence findings are what underpin President Barack Obama's argument that there is still time to see whether economic sanctions will compel Iran's leaders to halt any program. [...]
"The quality of intelligence varies from case to case," a U.S. administration official said. Intelligence on North Korea and Iraq was more limited, but there was "extraordinarily good intelligence" on Iran, the official said.
Israel, which regards a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, has a different calculation. It studies the same intelligence and timetable, but sees a closing window of opportunity to take unilateral military action and set back Iran's ambitions. [...]
U.S. confidence that Iran stopped its nuclear weaponization program in 2003 traces back to a stream of intelligence obtained in 2006 or early 2007, which dramatically shifted the view of spy agencies. [...]
Under pressure from both European allies and Israel's supporters, U.S. intelligence agencies late in the Bush administration and early in Obama's tenure began to take a second look at the 2007 estimate. Some consideration was given to bringing it more into line with European views. [...] But analysts were divided about the significance of [new] information. The revised estimate was delayed for months. Eventually, at the very end of 2010, an updated version was circulated within the government. Unlike the 2007 estimate, the White House made public no extracts of this document. A consensus emerged among U.S. experts that the new intelligence information wasn't as alarming as originally thought, according to officials familiar with the result. [...]
Both countries believe Iran has not made a decision to build a bomb, so even if Tehran decided to move forward, it would be unlikely to have a working nuclear device this year, let alone a missile to deliver it.
"I think they are years away from having a nuclear weapon," a U.S. administration official said. [...]
Rumors periodically pop up of other secret enrichment sites, but so far they have not been substantiated. "Most of the people who make the argument that they might have a covert facility or a series of covert facilities are doing that to justify bombing them sooner rather than later," said Colin Kahl, a former defense official focused on the Middle East.