Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, repeated his position that Iran has not yet decided whether to develop a nuclear weapon. Clapper, both in his prepared remarks [PDF] and in an exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), emphasized that sanctions and diplomacy were the best option for stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and that Iran’s decision making is guided by a a rational “cost-benefit approach.”
Graham — who is currently spearheading a resolution limiting President Obama’s policy options on Iran — tried to push Clapper into acknowledging that Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, but the top U.S. intelligence official failed to agree, leading Graham to disagree with the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran’s nuclear intentions:
LINDSEY GRAHAM: You have doubt about the Iranian’s intention when it comes to making a nuclear weapon?
JAMES CLAPPER: I do.
GRAHAM: So you’re not sure they’re trying to make a bomb? [...]
CLAPPER: I think they’re keeping themselves in a position to make that decision but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time. [...]
GRAHAM: I guess my point is that I take a different view. I’m very convinced they’re going down the road of developing a nuclear weapon.
In his prepared testimony, Clapper emphasized that Iran’s decisionmaking could be influenced by outside inducements and pressures, much as any other nation state evaluates its interests and security, saying:
We judge Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders 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 acknowledged that Iran’s technical advancements strengthen the assessment that Iran has the capability to eventually produce a nuclear weapon, a view which falls in line with the IAEA’s findings that Iran’s nuclear program has potential military dimensions.
Referring to the new U.S. sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Clapper observed that while economic difficulties “probably will not jeopardize the regime,” CBI sanctions “will have a greater impact on Iran than previous U.S. [sanctions].”