By Pam Benson, Jamie Crawford and Joe Sterling
Iran took center stage on Tuesday as top U.S. intelligence officials and senators discussed what could trigger a military response to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, said Iran continues to develop its nuclear capabilities but has not yet decided to make weapons.
When asked by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, what would be the “red line” for Iran to cross to trigger a more forceful U.S. response, Clapper said, “enrichment of uranium to a 90 percent level would be a pretty good indicator of their seriousness.” Clapper added there were “some other things” Iran would need to do, but did not elaborate.
CIA Director David Petraeus agreed further enrichment would be a “telltale indicator.”
Lawmakers voiced worries that any effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program could be too little, too late and some said something needed to be urgently done to prevent Iran from crossing the threshold and developing nuclear weapons.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the committee chairwoman, said, “2012 will be a critical year for convincing or preventing Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, worried that harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic haven’t changed Iranian behavior, not even the threat of military action by the administration. It reminded him of what happened with North Korea in recent years.
“We know that North Korea, despite all of the rhetoric, possesses nuclear weapons,” Coats said. “And I just hope we don’t have to talk ourselves into a situation where we’re not able to back up what we see.”
Iran, Clapper said, has “so far” not changed their behavior in the face of the sanctions imposed against them, but “as the pressure ratchets up, there is the prospect that they could change.”
In his report submitted to the committee, a 31-page assessment of threats around the world, Clapper said that “counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cyber-security and counterintelligence are at the immediate forefront of our security concerns” and that the “multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats – and the actors behind them … constitute
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