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 Forbes KerryJohn Kerry’s memoir title revealed GOP senator: Democratic opposition to Pompeo 'driven 100 percent by politics' North Korea is moved by Pompeo diplomacy, but Dems dig in deeper 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 Ann AyotteAudit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years No, the US did not spend million on a gas station in Afghanistan 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 SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard Sessions Trump to lawmakers pressing Sessions to investigate Comey and Clinton: 'Good luck with that' Five takeaways from Trump adding Giuliani Trump disputes report that he calls Sessions 'Mr. Magoo' MORE (R-Ala.).