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. Iran has capacity to produce nuclear arms: US intelligence
WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (AFP) Feb 13, 2008
Iran still possesses the capacity to produce nuclear weapons even though it may have stopped its atomic arms development program, a senior US intelligence official said Wednesday.

Thomas Fingar, deputy US director of national intelligence for analysis, told a Congressional hearing that the Islamic republic "continues to develop" capabilities that could be swiftly adopted for production of nuclear weapons.

"We judge it has the technical and industrial capability to produce nuclear weapons," he told the House of Representatives armed services committee which held the hearing to make a global security assessment.

Lawmakers were particularly keen to find out from senior intelligence officials who testified Wednesday the background behind a new intelligence report in December saying Iran halted its nuclear weapons drive in 2003 and that US charges about Tehran's atomic goals were overblown.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a consensus view of all 16 US spy agencies, had also cautioned that Iran was keeping its nuclear options open, still bucked international demands to freeze uranium enrichment, and could have the technical ability to make a nuclear weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015.

Asked by one lawmaker whether Iran, by continuing its uranium enrichment activities, was still within striking distance of developing a nuclear weapon, Fingar said, "your logic point is that they have the capacity to resume a weapons program" if they wanted to do so.

He said the US time frame prediction for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon was based on an indigenous capability for enriching uranium, which could be used to make nuclear fuel but also to make fissile material for atomic bombs.

The time frame could be shortened if they procure fissile material elsewhere, he said. "It's the centrifuge program -- fissile material production -- which is the main variable," he said.

Media reports have said Iran is testing advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, in flagrant defiance of UN resolutions to suspend all enrichment activity until the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, can verify that such activities are entirely peaceful.

Iran's refusal to suspend enrichment activities, in defiance of two sets of UN sanctions and the threat of a possible third, have fuelled western suspicions that Tehran is seeking to develop the atomic bomb.

Iran insists it has an inalienable right to develop the technology to generate nuclear power to meet the energy needs of a growing population.

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