Best intelligence analysis is that Iran has not yet made decision to produce nuclear weapon but is pursuing latent nuclear weapons capability
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Myth 3: Iranian civilian nuclear activities are a cover for nuclear weapons program.
This charge has been repeatedly dismissed by the best available US intelligence assessments. The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate assessed Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Then Secretary of Defense Panetta confirmed the continued validity of this assessment in February 2013 saying, “the intelligence we have is they [Iranian leaders] have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon.”14 Instead, the ultimate objective for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, according to US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, may be to develop “various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so.”15 He went on, however, to emphasize that “we do not know . . . if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”16 In other words, Iran (like several other countries) may be seeking a latent nuclear capability or what is often referred to as the “Japan option”—the ability to produce a nuclear weapon on a relatively compressed timeline should the security situation warrant a nuclear deterrent. It is in this sense that repeated US and Israeli threats to attack Iran’s existing civilian nuclear facilities may well be counterproductive by underscoring the potential need for just such a deterrent. In fact, Britain’s former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently explained that the veiled military threat of keeping all options on the table “is a hindrance to negotiations, rather than a help.”17
Finally, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has formally and publicly renounced nuclear weapons in a binding religious ruling or fatwa that “considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin.” Reversing such a pledge is, of course, not impossible. However, all avail- able evidence confirms that Khamenei has thus far made good on his pledge to “never pursue nuclear weapons.”
The consensus opinion of the U.S. intelligence community is that Iran not diverted any resources to a military weapons program and there is no evidence that they have made the political decision to do so. However, it is clear from an examination of their past military programs and past statements that they want to preserve the technical capacity for nuclear breakout but forgoing the actuality in order to avoid international ostracism. This option holds the potential to advance Iran's security objectives without incurring the worse consequences an overt program might bring.