Cracks within Iran’s leadership on whether to build nuclear weapons

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - Split on Nuclear weapons issue

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2011 (AFP) – A classified US intelligence assessment says that Iran’s leaders are divided on whether to build nuclear weapons, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The new national intelligence estimate, or NIE, says that international sanctions may be a source of division among the leaders. According to the NIE, at least some Iranian leaders worry that economic turmoil fueled in part by the sanctions could spur opposition to the regime. “The bottom line is that the intelligence community has concluded that there’s an intense debate inside the Iranian regime on the question of whether or not to move toward a nuclear bomb,” a US official told the Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There’s a strong sense that a number of Iranian regime officials know that the sanctions are having a serious effect,” the official said.

In the previous NIE report on Iran, in 2007, the US intelligence services said that Tehran had virtually halted its nuclear weapons development programs in 2003. The current assessment says that Tehran likely resumed some nuclear weapons research, but does not conclude that it has a full program to build an atomic bomb. The assessment was shared this week with key congressional committees, the Journal reported. Western powers led by the United States suspect Iran is masking a weapons drive under the guise of a civilian atomic program, a charge strongly denied by Iran. Iran is currently under four sets of UN sanctions and other unilateral punitive measures imposed by several countries, including the United States and European Union.

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