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US Intel Chiefs Assess Iranian Threat

CIA Director David Petraeus (r) listens as Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, left, testifies on Capitol Hill, Washington, Jan. 31, 2012.
CIA Director David Petraeus (r) listens as Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, left, testifies on Capitol Hill, Washington, Jan. 31, 2012.
Michael Bowman

America’s top intelligence official says Iran is increasingly willing to conduct attacks in the United States or against U.S. interests overseas, but does not appear to have decided to build a nuclear weapon.

In written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said last year’s foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington shows that some Iranian officials “are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived actions that threaten the regime.” He said such officials could include the country’s supreme leader.

Iran has denied taking part in assassination plots and insisted it has no intention of building nuclear weapons. On that second point, Clapper told senators Iran could be telling the truth, at least for now.

“They are certainly moving on that path, but we do not believe they have made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," said Clapper, adding that the extent to which Iran enriches uranium will be a key signal of its intentions.

Also appearing before the Intelligence Committee, CIA Director David Petraeus agreed with Clapper’s analysis, but said Iran’s current enrichment activities already surpass what is needed for a peaceful nuclear program.

“Factually, the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium that they have exceeds any requirement, for example, for the Tehran research reactor for the foreseeable future," he said.

Petraeus and Clapper acknowledged recent consultations between U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies concerning Iran, but did not elaborate.

The U.S. recently boosted economic sanctions on Iran. The director of national intelligence expressed hope that such pressure will curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said only the toughest of sanctions have a chance of succeeding.

"I have come to believe that Iran's leaders are not going to give up their push for a nuclear weapons capability, unless they believe it is going to cost them their hold on power," said Wyden.

On other national security matters, Clapper hailed recent U.S. successes against al-Qaida, including the killing or capture of its leaders and the degrading of its ability to mount a major terrorist strike. The ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, expressed gratitude that an all-consuming question since 2001 - where is Osama bin Laden? - has been answered.

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