Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to lawmakers Tuesday that Iran sees the nuclear deal it struck with the United States and five other world powers as a way to remove burdensome sanctions while simultaneously maintaining a strong nuclear infrastructure.
Clapper made his statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing in which the intelligence chief discussed the intelligence community's annual assessment of worldwide threats to U.S. interests and national security.
Part of Clapper's testimony focused on the threats posed by the Islamic Republic and how the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), affects the country's relationship with America going forward.
“Iran probably views the JCPOA as a means to remove sanctions while preserving nuclear capabilities,” Clapper told lawmakers.
He added that “Iran's perception of how the JCPOA helps it achieve its overall strategic goals will dictate the level of its adherence to the agreement over time.”
The nuclear deal was signed in July and implemented on Jan. 16, at which time Iran received an estimated $50 billion to $150 billion in sanctions relief after it took steps to curb its nuclear program.
Some experts have said Iran's objective throughout negotiations was to ensure the removal of sanctions that were crippling its economy while retaining a nuclear weapons capability to possibly exercise at a future time.
One argument critics of the JCPOA make is that the agreement grants Tehran large-scale sanctions relief while allowing it to have a vast nuclear infrastructure whose most important restrictions have clear expiration dates, after which time Iran could breakout to a nuclear weapon in little time.
The Obama administration maintains that the deal ensures Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and is at least a year away from producing one.
Clapper's testimony comes upon his release of the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” which outlines the current array of challenges threatening U.S. national security.
The report says the intelligence community “continue[s] to assess that Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue.”
Directly addressing Iran's political will, the document adds that “Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei continues to view the United States as a major threat to Iran, and we assess that his views will not change, despite implementation of the JCPOA deal … Iran’s military and security services are keen to demonstrate that their regional power ambitions have not been altered by the JCPOA deal.”
The assessment also describes how Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is part of its “overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence.”
Beyond the nuclear deal, the intelligence assessment calls the Islamic Republic the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Clapper explained to lawmakers how Iran's aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere is dangerous to American interests and national security, as well as its growing missile arsenal and cyber capabilities.
The intelligence community, according to its assessment, views Iran as “an enduring threat to US national interests” and a country that sees itself as leading an “axis of resistance” against American influence and the influence of U.S. allies.
“Tehran might even use American citizens detained when entering Iranian territories as bargaining pieces to achieve financial or political concessions in line with their strategic intentions,” the report added.