By Sam Youngman - 11/08/11 09:24 PM EST
Obama administration officials said Tuesday that a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “raises concerns” about Iran’s nuclear program, but cautioned that it does not draw any conclusions about when Iran might be capable of building a nuclear bomb.
The report concludes that Iran had a “structured program” to build a nuclear warhead from the late 1990s until 2003, an official said, but does not “assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale” weapons program.
There are, however, “indications that some activity relevant to the development of a nuclear device continues, and that some may be ongoing,” one official said.
The report “certainly doesn’t assert that Iran has mastered all the necessary technology [to make a weapon], and we agree with that,” the official said.
President Obama and his aides will consult with the international community “about the next steps we might take” with regards to Iran, including more economic sanctions, the officials said.
“This report confirms some of the concerns we’ve had, and also confirms why the president’s been working so hard to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” one official said.
Sanctions already in place against Iran provide a platform from which the United States and its allies can increase the pressure on the Iranian government, officials said. They noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently conceded that sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy.
“Our banks cannot make international transactions anymore,” Ahmadinejad said.
Before 2003, officials said, Iran had in place a “very well organized” weapons program aimed at developing a “wide array of technologies.”
That appears to have changed, an official said.
“It looks like a more sporadic set of research activity,” the official said.
There is “no evidence” in the IAEA report that Iran is producing highly enriched uranium that can be weaponized, though it is troubling that Iran seems to be stockpiling 20 percent enriched uranium.
“That’s very concerning,” one official said. “Because there’s no civil need for them to produce at 20 percent.”
A stockpile of the 20 percent “would give [Iran] a short-cut if they decide in the future they want to produce weapons-grade, 90 percent.”
Another official said: “So that’s an area we’re really focusing on as one of great concern.”
Administration officials said Obama expects Iran “to respond to this report by demonstrating to the world the peaceful nature of its program by answering the questions that are raised, very directly, by this IAEA report.”
This story was updated at 8:23 p.m.