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. US seeks to clarify admiral's comment on Iran
WASHINGTON, March 2 (AFP) Mar 02, 2009
The Defense Department on Monday sought to clarify comments made by the top US military officer on Iran's atomic program a day after he said Tehran had enough nuclear material to make a bomb.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was referring to the amount of low-enriched uranium produced by Iran, which would have to be enhanced to weapons-grade uranium to be used in a nuclear bomb, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

"It's clear they have the capacity to produce low-grade uranium," Whitman said.

"When he answered the question about low-grade uranium, it sounded like he was talking about an enriched uranium capability," he said.

Whitman blamed media reports for creating "some confusion yesterday."

Mullen was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday if Iran had enough nuclear material to make a bomb. He replied: "We think they do, quite frankly."

The admiral added: "And Iran having a nuclear weapon, I've believed for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world."

In a separate television interview aired the same day on NBC's "Meet the Press," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iran was "not close to a (nuclear) weapon at this point."

The Pentagon spokesman said Gates and Mullen shared the same view of Iran's nuclear program and that there was no disagreement.

He said "they have the same identical assessments on these things."

In its latest report on Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tehran has produced 1,010 kilograms (2,227 pounds) of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEU) from its work at a plant in Natanz.

Some analysts say that amount of LEU is enough to turn into highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons, known as a "breakout capability."

In a report to Congress last month, US intelligence director Dennis Blair said Iran would likely be capable of producing enough highly-enriched uranium for an atomic weapon sometime between 2010 to 2015.

Blair said Iran has made progress over the past two years in installing and operating centrifuges at its main enrichment plant in Natanz.

Mullen's comment meanwhile drew a strong denial from Tehran, which insists that its nuclear work is designed only to generate electricity.

"All this talk is baseless," foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said on Monday.

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