Iran Nuclear NewsIran nuclear potential 'immediate concern' - U.S.

Iran nuclear potential ‘immediate concern’ – U.S.

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Reuters: The United States does not believe Iran has a nuclear weapon but the danger Tehran will acquire one is an “immediate concern,” U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday. By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The United States does not believe Iran has a nuclear weapon but the danger Tehran will acquire one is an “immediate concern,” U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday.

Negroponte, national director of intelligence, also told a Senate committee looking into the range of threats to the United States that al Qaeda is still plotting and preparing for attacks on the United States.

“We judge that Tehran probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon and probably has not yet produced or acquired the necessary fissile material,” Negroponte said in prepared testimony to the Senate intelligence committee.

However, he said, “The danger that it will acquire a nuclear weapon and the ability to integrate it with the ballistic missiles Iran already possesses is a reason for immediate concern.”

The Senate committee was looking at the proliferation threat posed by Iran on the same day the International Atomic Energy Agency considered whether to report the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are purely to develop nuclear power.

In other testimony, Negroponte said that although much of al Qaeda’s leadership from the time of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States had been eliminated, its “core elements still plot and make preparations for terrorist strikes against the (U.S.) homeland and other targets from bases in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.”

“The group will attempt high-impact attacks for as long as its central command structure is functioning and affiliated groups are capable of furthering its interests, because even modest operational capabilities can yield a deadly and damaging attack,” he said.

An attack using conventional explosives remains be the “most probable scenario,” but al Qaeda remains interested in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials or weapons, he said.

The hearing was first in which the Senate oversight panel has taken testimony from the national director of intelligence, a job that was created by post-Sept. 11 congressional reforms.

Nearly 40 terrorist organizations, insurgencies, cults and other groups have used, possessed or expressed an interest in chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents or weapons, Negroponte said.

“Many are capable of conducting simple small-scale attacks such as poisonings or using improvised chemical devices,” he said.

North Korea’s nuclear program also posed a threat, Negroponte said.

“North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons — a claim that we assess is probably true — and has threatened to proliferate these weapons abroad,” he said, adding, “Accordingly, the North remains a major challenge to the global nuclear nonproliferation regimes.”

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s annual hearing on worldwide threats will also give lawmakers their first chance to grill intelligence leaders publicly about President George W. Bush’s domestic-eavesdropping program at the National Security Agency.

Warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens has raised an outcry from Democrats and some Republicans who question whether Bush overstepped his authority.

Along with Negroponte, the directors of the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the intelligence units of the State Department and Department of Homeland Security were scheduled to testify.

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