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. Iran still years away from having nukes: US intelligence chief
WASHINGTON, April 20 (AFP) Apr 20, 2006
US intelligence chief John Negroponte said Thursday Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment is "troublesome" but the country is still years away from having enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon.

Negroponte expressed concern both about Iran's claim to have resumed uranium enrichment with a cascade of 164 centrifuges in Natanz and extreme statements made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The developments in Iran -- clearly they're troublesome," he said in response to questions after a speech to the National Press Club.

"By the same token, our assessment at the moment is that even though we believe that Iran is determined to acquire or obtain a nuclear weapon, that we believe that it is still a number of years off before they are likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into, or to put into a nuclear weapon; perhaps into the next decade," he said.

"So I think it's important that this issue be kept in perspective," he said.

Negroponte is marking his first year in office as the director of national intelligence, a post created in the wake of the intelligence fiasco over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Critics have complained that the new intelligence directorate, which is supposed to coordinate the work of some 15 US intelligence agencies, is developing into another bloated bureaucracy with nearly 1,000 people reportedly working for it.

Negroponte denied that the reforms he is pursuing have been "a theory-based experiment or an exercise in bureaucratic bloat."

"Government programs require government officials to implement them," he said, adding that the last three embassies he led as an ambassador were larger than his intelligence directorate.

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