An annual intelligence report to Congress has dropped language stating that Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are a future option.
The revision comes as U.S. intelligence agencies recently altered a controversial 2007 intelligence assessment that said Iran halted work on nuclear arms in 2003 and was keeping open its options for building an atomic weapon.
The deleted language also had stated for two years that Iran was keeping open the option to build atomic weapons. However, the latest report to Congress, which was made public Feb. 23, no longer states that Iran’s building a weapon is an option.
A U.S. official insisted there was no “sleight-of-hand” in the change but could not explain why the recent report was altered from two previous versions.
The omitted language is expected to be included in the prepared statement of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
U.S. officials declined to discuss the revision to the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, saying there are no plans to make the changes public, although Congress will be briefed formally next week.
Officials also said there were no differences between the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), which produced the report, and the National Intelligence Council under Mr. Clapper that “coordinated” the final report.
The omitted language said U.S. intelligence agencies “continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons.”
Also left out of the report is the statement that “Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons if a decision is made to do so.”
Mr. Clapper was asked during a Feb. 16 hearing about the language and said intelligence agencies were finishing a “memorandum for holders” of the NIE that he said was an update of the 2007 Iran assessment.
That NIE, which was partially released to the public, was widely criticized by current and former intelligence officials for stating that Iran halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but continued to develop uranium enrichment programs.
Disclosure of the change in the report’s language comes as the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in Vienna on Monday that he has new information on the military aspect of Iran’s nuclear program.
IAEA Director Yukiya Amano told reporters that doubts about the civilian nature of the Iran program were based on information showing Iran engaged in nuclear weapons activity before and after 2004.
“We are not saying that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. We have concerns and we want to clarify the matter,” he said at a news conference.
An internal IAEA report from Feb. 25 stated that recent information disclosed “nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
It stated that “there are indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004.”
The latest CIA report said Iran last year decreased the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges but surged ahead in production, now holding an estimated 3,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, nearly double last year’s estimate.
“During the reporting period, Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor, despite multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions since late 2006 and most recently in June 2010 calling for suspension of those activities,” the report said.
The Iranians faced some obstacles that slowed their progress in expanding nuclear work last year that were not identified. The underground nuclear plant at Natanz also continued to add older and newer model centrifuges for enriching uranium.
“You can’t explain the Iranian nuclear program as a civilian program,” said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. “Any way you look at the program, it looks like a military program, and our intelligence agencies should be willing to say so.”