By Carlo Muñoz - 08/09/12 04:40 PM EDT
Nuclear scientists in Tehran have made "surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of [Iran's] military nuclear program," according to a U.S. intelligence report reviewed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak could not confirm the information on Iran's nuclear ambitions was part of a new NIE drafted by the U.S. intelligence community.
"There probably really is such an American intelligence report — I don't know if it is an NIE — making its way around senior offices" in Washington, Barak said.
However, these new details within the new U.S. assessment of Iran's nuclear program does put Washington and Jerusalem on the same page regarding Tehran's desire to acquire an atomic weapon, according to Barak.
"The [new] American assessment is much closer to ours," he said. "It makes the Iranian issue even more urgent and [shows it is] less clear and certain that we will know everything in time about their steady progress toward military nuclear capability."
News of the U.S. intelligence estimate comes a month after media reports surfaced that leaders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards had sent a team of nuclear scientists to assist with ongoing enrichment work on the country's nuclear facility in Lavizan, miles from Tehran.
At the Lavizan location, Iranian officials are suspected of developing nuclear warheads and detonators, according to those reports. IAEA inspectors visited the Lavizan base, in 2006. The military installation is part of the Iranian military's missile development agency.
Tehran has repeatedly claimed its nuclear work is strictly focused on developing a new energy source for the country.
However, western powers continue to argue Iran is actively pursing a nuclear weapon, citing the country's refusal to allow international inspectors access to its facilities.
Most recently, Iranian officials denied inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its nuclear facility in Parchin — where western officials believe the bulk of Iran's nuclear weapons work is taking place.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not hesitate to launch a preemptive attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, should it become clear Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Ongoing negotiations between Iran and P5+1 council — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany — over the country's enrichment program have produced little more than empty rhetoric from both sides.
That said, the White House continues to focus its efforts on diplomatic and economic sanctions to convince Tehran to back off their ongoing nuclear work.