Iran 'falls behind' in bid to build nuclear bomb

Senate testimony by General Petraeus appears to back President's approach

Iran's suspected drive to acquire nuclear weapons appears to have slipped back slightly, and Tehran is unlikely to have a bomb during 2010, America's top commander for the region told Congress yesterday.

The remarks of General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, seemed in part designed to back up the current stance of the Obama administration that – despite the acute anxieties of Israel and moderate Gulf states – there is still room for diplomatic and economic sanctions to persuade the Tehran regime to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

"It has, thankfully, slid to the right a bit and it is not this calendar year, I don't think," General Petraeus testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked when he thought Iran would have a nuclear weapon.

He was speaking against a backdrop of renewed domestic political tension in Iran, ahead of a traditional annual festival this week which has pagan, pre-Islamic origins, and which the opposition wants to turn into a protest against the clerical regime.

In response, the authorities have announced that six people convicted of "waging war against God" during the last round of demonstrations in December will be executed, and publicly warned the population not to take part in the so-called Feast of Fire.

Iran's domestic unrest is being closely followed in Washington, which is torn between a desire to encourage a protest movement which might complicate Tehran's efforts to get the bomb, and the fear that explicit intervention will only make it easier for the regime to rally the country against foreign interference, portraying the nuclear programme as a symbol of national independence.

Yesterday General Petraeus noted again that President Obama had stated that Iran would not be allowed to have nuclear weapons: US policy was "very clear," he told lawmakers.

Indeed, like his predecessor George W Bush, Mr Obama has repeatedly refused to take the military option off the table, and General Petraeus acknowledged that the Pentagon was drawing up contingency plans for precisely such circumstances.

Even so, some analysts believe that Washington may be quietly shifting to a strategy of containment, in the calculation that sooner or later, whatever is done, Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. This suspicion has been strengthened by recent statements by both Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Pentagon's most senior uniformed officer, playing down the effectiveness of military action. But General Petraeus declined to comment on what he termed a "big policy hypothetical."

Nor did he explain yesterday why he believed Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon might have hit some bumps. Last month, however, Dennis Blair, director of US national intelligence, said that Iran appeared to be experiencing "some problems" at its key enrichment facility in Natanz, where it was operating only about half of the installed 8,000 centrifuges. Even so, he said, Tehran was "technically capable" of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in "the next few years," if it chose to do so.

Turning to Iraq, where he was a key architect of President Bush's troop "surge" in 2007, General Petraeus indicated that the US may temporarily slow the current reduction of troop strength in the country.

Noting that the situation in Iraq remained fragile, despite declining violence and high turnout in the recent elections, he said the Pentagon was still adjusting details of the force reduction. But he insisted that President Obama's target of reducing total US forces from 97,000 now to 50,000 by the end of August would be met. Under current plans, all US combat forces will have left Iraq by the end of 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine