Intelligence chief sees no barriers to Iran nukes

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Thursday that Iran poses a threat to its neighbors in the Middle East and faces no barriers in producing a nuclear weapon.

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"We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," Clapper said in the annual worldwide threat assessment delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While Iran has temporarily slowed development toward producing enriched uranium, the assessment notes, the country "does not face any insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon."

"We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them," the assessment reads.

In testimony before the Senate panel Thursday, Clapper conceded Iran is making moves on the issue.

"The Iranians have continued on their space launch vehicle program and recently put into orbit a satellite, and obviously any work that they do on missiles could conceivably go towards work on an in intercontinental missile," Clapper said.

"There's no question they have the technical competence," he said, adding, "theoretically they could attempt to launch one this year."

Iran's nuclear program has been at the forefront of debate in Washington as Republicans eye the Obama administration's push for a deal over Tehran’s nuclear program. U.S. officials hope to have a framework in place for the agreement by the end of March.

Some Democrats have boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next week in opposition to the deal. President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryCutting corners in a federal campaign is criminal Navy investigation concludes Iran broke international law by detaining sailors Top Democrat wants Obama to block Boeing's deal with Iran MORE will all not attend the speech.

"Do you think they have good intent in terms of what they're doing with their missile program?" Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Clean energy group backs two GOP incumbents Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack MORE (R-N.H.) pressed Thursday.

"No, I think the huge medium-range missile force they have today that is operational I think poses a threat to the region right now. So no, it is not," Clapper said.

Regarding Iran's supreme leader, Clapper reiterated, "We know he's not made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon."

"They're closer today, and every month that goes by it seems they get closer," said Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsGingrich, Christie top Trump’s VP list: report Trump hopes for boost from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call MORE (R-Ala.).