The top U.S. intelligence official told Congress on Tuesday that Iran could move forward with the construction of a nuclear weapon at any time and that there is no way to know the Islamic Republic will build these weapons following the implementation of a landmark agreement hailed by the Obama administration as a definitive step towards preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress during an open hearing that despite an intelligence budget in the billions, his office remains uncertain about Iran’s nuclear intentions.
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"We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," Clapper said, adding that if the Islamic Republic "chooses to," it maintains the "ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons."
Clapper further noted that Iran primarily views the nuclear agreement as a way to reap a large cash windfall while retaining the core of its nuclear infrastructure.
"Iran probably views the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a means to remove sanctions while preserving some of its nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure," he said.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that "Iran does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue," according to Clapper.
Clapper confirmed an Obama administration talking point, which has been criticized by outside experts, saying that the nuclear deal has pushed the time it would take Iran to build a bomb "from a few months to about a year."
Iran also continues to march down the path of building an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, according to Clapper.
In the months since the nuclear deal was signed, Tehran has moved forward with the test firing of ballistic missiles. The behavior is prohibited under United Nations Security Council resolutions, but Iran has not faced penalties.
Iranian military officials have repeatedly vowed to continue the country’s ballistic missile research and test-fire these weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community predicts that Iran "would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them," according to Clapper. "Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering [weapons of mass destruction], and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East."
Iran also continues research on its space program, which is largely considered a front for the construction of advanced ballistic missile technology.
"Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including ICBMs," Clapper said.
At the same time, Iran continues to be the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism.
"Iran—the foremost state sponsor of terrorism—continues to exert its influence in regional crises in the Middle East through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Quds Force (IRGC-QF), its terrorist partner Lebanese Hezbollah, and proxy groups," Clapper said.
Additionally, Iran "provides military and economic aid to its allies in the region," many of whom are committed to Israel’s destruction.
"Iran and Hezbollah remain a continuing terrorist threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide," Clapper said.