By Tony Capaccio
Iran is keeping its options open on building nuclear weapons by pursuing ``various nuclear capabilities,'' the U.S. intelligence chief said today.
The U.S. does not know if Iran will ultimately build weapons, but its programs “position it” to do so, said James Clapper, President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence.
“There is a real risk that its nuclear program will prompt other countries in the Middle East to pursue nuclear options,” he said in testimony before the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Iran will build weapons “if its leaders choose” to proceed, he said.
“We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” he said. Still, “Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran,” Clapper said.
Iran’s leadership “undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige and influence, as well as the international political and security environment when making decisions about its nuclear program,” Clapper said.
Clapper gave his assessment during the intelligence committee’s annual unclassified hearing on worldwide threats.
Clapper said Iran last year displayed a new rocket engine design for its Simorgh space launch vehicle “that could be used for an ICBM-class vehicle.”
“We are watching developments in this area very closely,” Clapper said.
Latin America Inroads
Iran also continues to “reach out” to Latin America “as a way to diminish its international isolation and bypass international sanctions,” Clapper said.
So far, he said, those relations have developed “only significantly” with Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil.
“Most moderate governments have responded coolly to Tehran outreach although an increasing number of Iranian embassies are attempting to spread” the country’s influence.
“We expect Tehran to continue offering economic and other incentives to try to expand its outreach,” he said.