White House pushes back against Israeli stance on Iranian nuke program

Citing an unnamed U.S. intelligence report, Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed Iranian nuclear scientists have made "surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of [Iran's] military nuclear program."

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That assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons capability was allegedly part of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran delivered to the White House in August, Haaretz reported on Thursday. 

But on Friday, a spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC) refuted such reports, saying Iran's nuclear effort had not accelerated in any significant way since administration officials last reviewed intelligence on the effort earlier this year. 

"We believe that there is time and space to continue to pursue a diplomatic path, backed by growing international pressure on the Iranian government," the spokesman told Reuters.  

"We continue to assess that Iran is not on the verge of achieving a nuclear weapon," according to the NSC spokesman. 

U.S. military and intelligence officials have said publicly there has been no evidence that Iran has crossed any of the "red lines" that would prompt military action by American forces. 

These so-called "red lines" are U.S. or Israeli-imposed limits on how far Iran can go in terms of advancing its nuclear program. Should Iran cross any one of these red lines, it could trigger an armed response by either Washington or Israel. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not hesitate to launch an preemptive attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, should it become clear Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

That said, the United States has been able to keep close tabs on the inner workings of Iran's nuclear efforts and has protocols in place to alert the White House and Pentagon if Tehran heads down the path of nuclear weaponization, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"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," Carney told reporters, according to Agence France Presse. 

Tehran has repeatedly claimed its nuclear work is strictly focused toward 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. 

Three subsequent meetings between Iranian diplomats and members of the P5+1 council — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany — have yielded little progress in shedding any light into Iran's nuclear ambitions.