In a briefing to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Tuesday,
McConnell appeared to play down a previous U.S. assessment that Teheran
halted its nuclear weapon program, Middle East Newsline reported. Instead, McConnell, in his first
appearance since the release of the controversial National Intelligence
Estimate in December 2007, acknowledged differences within the intelligence
community over Iran's nuclear program.
"We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically
capable of producing enough HEU [highly-enriched uranium] for a weapon
sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame," McConnell said. "INR judges Iran
is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable
technical and programmatic problems. All agencies recognize the possibility
that this capability may not be attained until after 2015."
This was the first time the U.S. intelligence community -- which
asserted that Teheran could have also imported enriched uranium -- raised
the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon before 2010. Previous assessments
ruled out an Iranian nuclear weapon before 2013.
Over the last year, McConnell said, the U.S. intelligence community has
gained "important new insights" into Teheran nuclear weapons activities. He
said NIE concluded that Iran halted nuclear warhead design and weaponization
in 2003 while maintaining uranium enrichment.
"This is the most difficult challenge in nuclear production," McConnell
said. "Iran's efforts to perfect ballistic missiles that can reach North
Africa and Europe also continue."
"We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical
and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons," McConnell
said. "In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a
nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually
producing nuclear weapons-and such a decision is inherently reversible."
The intelligence community assessed that Iran has continued dual-use
nuclear research and development projects. McConnell said two of the 16
intelligence agencies — the Energy Department and National Intelligence
Council — did not agree with their colleagues that Iran definitely halted
nuclear weapons activities.
"Because of intelligence gaps, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate
confidence that all such activities were halted," McConnell said. "We assess
with moderate confidence that Teheran had not restarted these activities as
of mid-2007, but since they comprised an unannounced secret effort which
Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if these activities have been