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Iran nuclear arms bid unclear: US intel chief

US intelligence does not know whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but at a minimum Tehran is keeping that option open, the new US intelligence director said.

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 03:20 IST

US intelligence does not know whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but at a minimum Tehran is keeping that option open, the new US intelligence director said on Thursday.

Retired admiral Dennis Blair said US intelligence assesses that Iran has not restarted nuclear weapons design and weaponization work that it halted in late 2003.

"Although we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop them," he said in an annual threat assessment to Congress.

The assessment essentially reaffirmed a 2007 intelligence report that at the time was widely seen as a setback to international efforts to put pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

Blair's predecessor, retired admiral Mike McConnell, later said it had been a mistake to make public the key judgements of the intelligence assessment because it suggested Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons.

Asked about it at a Senate hearing, Blair acknowledged it was a difficult question to deal with in a public setting, noting that Iran had over time worked on the various components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program -- "fissionable material, nuclear weaponizing capability and the means to deliver it."

But he added: "Whether they take it all the way to nuclear weapons and become a nuclear power will depend a great deal on their own internal decisions.