During today’s Capitol Hill hearing on global threats faced by the U.S., Iran’s nuclear program naturally came up several times. Taking questions from Members of Congress, the top U.S. intelligence official confirmed the reported U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran has not yet decided on building a nuclear weapon, and said pressure on the Islamic Republic could work to prevent such a decision from being made.
In response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “[I]f the decision has been made to press on with a nuclear weapon — and there are certain things they have not done yet to eventuate that — that this would be based on a cost-benefit analysis. We don’t believe [Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei]‘s made that decision yet.”
After introducing Iran’s cost-benefit analysis, Wyden then pressed Clapper on what factors might inform it:
WYDEN: What could convince them, in your view, that their hold on power is being undermined by their nuclear effort?
CLAPPER: Well, I think a restive population because of economic extremis that the country of Iran is incurring. If you look at the plunging value of the Rial [and] the extremely high unemployment rate in Iran. This, I think, could give rise to resentment and discontent among the populace. And this is not to say there haven’t been other examples of that elsewhere in the region.
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Later in the hearing, Clapper added, “I think they do pay attention to international opinion and what others think of them.”
In his prepared testimony (PDF), Clapper said Iran had shifted to a more aggressive posture against the U.S. — even on U.S. soil, as a foiled alleged plot against the Saudi ambassador in D.C. shows — “in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”