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White House says it has ‘eyes’ inside Iranian nuclear program

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The United States said Friday it had “eyes” and “visibility” inside Iran’s nuclear program and would know if Tehran had made a “breakout” move toward acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The comment by White House spokesman Jay Carney followed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s remark that new U.S. intelligence suggested that the threat from Iran was becoming more “urgent.”

Carney declined to comment on intelligence matters in detail but said that Washington and Israel were agreed on Iran’s ambitions and its nuclear program.

“I would also say that we have eyes -- we have visibility into the program, and we would know if and when Iran made what’s called a breakout move towards acquiring a weapon.”

Breakout capability is commonly understood to be the point when a state acquires the knowledge, capability and materials to build a nuclear bomb if it wants to.

Carney said later in his briefing that he was referring to International Atomic Energy Agency officials mandated to inspect Iran’s nuclear sites because Tehran is a signatory to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But many experts believe there has been substantial infiltration and sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program by Western and Israeli intelligence agencies.

Military sites in Iran that do not have confirmed nuclear activities are off-limits to inspectors unless provided for by agreement or under the terms of an Additional Protocol to the NPT that Iran dropped in 2006.

Carney’s comments came on a day on which speculation about a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear program ran rampant in the Israeli press.

The White House spokesman said however that Washington still believed that “there is time and space to pursue the diplomatic option that includes extremely and increasingly aggressive sanctions.”

The United States has however said it has not taken a military option off the table.

A series of visits by high-ranking U.S. defense officials to Israel has raised speculation that Washington is trying to dissuade Israel from a preemptive military attack.

In an interview on Thursday, Barak said a recent U.S. intelligence report made the Iranian issue more “urgent” and had moved closer to the U.S. position.

The United States has not said publicly if it has changed its intelligence assessment on the state of Iran’s nuclear program.