* U.S. agencies revise 2007 assessment
* But no proof that Tehran has decided yet to build bomb
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies
believe Iranian leaders have resumed closed-door debates over
the last four years about whether to build a nuclear bomb.
But a recent update to a controversial 2007 U.S. National
Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear ambitions also says its
leaders have not decided about going ahead with an atomic
weapon, according to U.S. officials familiar with the latest
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described
the new document Wednesday as a "memorandum to holders" of
the 2007 report.
Clapper, testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee
about threats to the United States, did not reveal many details
of the new assessment of Iran, which officials said would not
be published by the government in an unclassified form.
But the spy chief did offer a summary of U.S. concerns.
"Iran is keeping open the option 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," he said.
Iran's progress in research and development, particularly
its capability to enrich uranium, "strengthens our assessment
that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity
to eventually produce nuclear weapons," Clapper said.
"These advancements contribute to our judgment that Iran is
technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium
for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so."
But he said U.S. agencies believe a "central issue" remains
whether Iranian leaders have the will to build a bomb.
Iran has been at loggerheads with the United States and
other Western powers over its nuclear program, which Tehran
insists is solely for the peaceful generation of electricity.
'RESUMED INTERNAL DISCUSSIONS'
The principal assessment at the heart of the National
Intelligence Estimate update, one official told Reuters, is
that Iranian leaders "resumed internal discussions" at some
point between 2007 and 2011 about whether to move ahead and
build a nuclear weapon.
The 2007 report -- key elements of which were published by
the administration of President George W. Bush -- said that,
until the autumn of 2003, Iranian military entities were
working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
But U.S. agencies said in the 2007 report they had "high
confidence" that "Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program" in
late 2003 and "moderate confidence" it had not been restarted
as of mid-2007.
Many conservative foreign policy experts criticized the
2007 report as inaccurate and for undermining efforts by some
U.S. and Israeli officials to build support for harsher
sanctions against Iran or for a military strike against Iranian
Several officials said the U.S. government has believed for
some time that Iran has been conducting research and
development -- including uranium enrichment efforts -- that
could be used for civilian or military nuclear purposes.
Some U.S. officials and Israeli officials have said they
believe that, over the last year, Iran's nuclear progress has
been slowed by mysterious attacks on Iranian scientists and by
the effects of a computer virus known as Stuxnet which targeted
control systems at its nuclear installations.
But given its apparent ambiguities, the latest National
Intelligence Estimate is unlikely to resolve heated debates
among nuclear experts about how long it would take Iran to put
together a bomb if its leaders gave the green light to do so.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Mohammad Zargham)
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