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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London