VIENNA (AP) - The U.S. and its European allies share fears that Iran might be seeking the capacity to make atomic arms as it forges ahead with its nuclear program. But they differ on whether it is actively working on such weapons, reflecting the difficulties of penetrating Tehran's wall of secrecy.
Comments by U.S. intelligence officials indicate that Washington still thinks the Islamic Republic stopped such secret work nine years ago. But Britain, France and Germany disagree, even though their officials are keen to show that they and the United States speak with one voice on the concerns that Iran may want to produce nuclear arms.
Such divergence could mean trouble for the West's strategy to keep Iran nuclear weapons-free.
The United States - and more forcefully Israel - have warned that armed attack is possible if Iran is seen to be actively working on a bomb. But the lack of consensus among allies could complicate making any such assessment. That could slow a joint response - or result in a misguided one.
Publicly at least, the United States is standing by a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that said Iran had abandoned attempts to develop a nuclear bomb in 2003.
A revised report last year remains classified. But in outlining its findings to Congress last year, National Intelligence Director James Clapper avoided any suggestion that the U.S. now thinks it erred in its 2007 assessment.
Instead he focused on Iran's expanding uranium enrichment and other programs monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency as key concerns. Clapper said it's "technically feasible" that Tehran could produce a nuclear weapon in one or two years if its leaders decide to build one, "but practically not likely."
However, recent reports by the IAEA - the U.N. nuclear agency - explicitly challenge the U.S. view that any weapons development work was in the past. They say that some such activities "continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing."
The IAEA has not said what suspect work was conducted when. But in its most recent report last week, it repeated suspicions Iran may have:
• worked on computer modeling of a core of a nuclear warhead
• prepared for a nuclear weapons test
• worked on development of a nuclear payload for a missile that could reach Israel.
• conducted high-explosives testing at the Parchin military complex to set off a nuclear charge.