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. CIA chief says Iran has nuclear weapons drive
WASHINGTON, March 30 (AFP) Mar 30, 2008
CIA chief Michael Hayden expressed his personal belief Sunday that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but also stood by the agency's assessment that the program was suspended in 2003.

"Personal belief, yes. It's hard for me to explain. This is not court of law stuff," the Central Intelligence Agency director said on NBC television.

Iran's defiance of UN Security Council sanctions showed the Islamic republic had something to hide with its production of enriched uranium, Hayden said.

The Iranians would not pay that price "if they did not have at a minimum... the desire to keep the option open to develop a nuclear weapon," and to produce "fissile material not under international control," he said.

In December, the CIA and rest of the US intelligence community said that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that US charges about Tehran's atomic goals had been overblown for at least two years.

The general said: "We stand by the judgment. It's one that unfortunately tends to get oversimplified in public discourse."

"Another part of the report that we emphasize is that (the) program had stopped in 2003. It's very clear they were weaponizing. It remained a program that the Iranians continue to deny ever existed," he said.

"And the other aspect of the Iranian nuclear effort beyond the weaponization, the development of delivery systems, all continue."

The United States and its European allies have led efforts to pressure Iran into freezing its disputed uranium enrichment work, a process that can be used both to make nuclear fuel and the core of an atomic bomb.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful.

US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday said Iran's uranium enrichment was for military purposes.

"Obviously, they're ... heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels," Cheney said in an interview with ABC television.

Cheney, however, did not mention on what he based his accusation.

And Hayden was reminded that the US government had argued that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, because of his refusal to cooperate with UN inspectors, must be hiding a program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"I understand. But, again, you've asked me for an assessment and I can only work from the facts that I see," the CIA boss said.

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