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US struggles to assess nuclear data on Iran

world Updated: Mar 18, 2012 23:10 IST
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While American spy agencies have believed that Iran halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government’s ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former US officials.

Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear programme raised concerns that the country’s leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said.

That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review. But in the end, the intercepts and other evidence were deemed unpersuasive. The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment has become to matters of war and peace.

Today, as suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have provoked tough sanctions and threats of military confrontation, top administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence community’s secret analysis.

But if that assessment changes, it could lift a brake set by Obama, who has not ruled out military options to prevent Iran gaining nuclear arms.