Washington: The United States, European allies and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran`s nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead.
Those conclusions, drawn from extensive interviews with current and former US and European officials with access to intelligence on Iran, contrast starkly with the heated debate surrounding a possible Israeli strike on Tehran`s nuclear facilities.
"They`re keeping the soup warm but they are not cooking it," a US administration official said.
Reuters has learned that in late 2006 or early 2007, US intelligence intercepted telephone and email communications in which Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading figure in Iran`s nuclear program, and other scientists complained that the weaponization program had been stopped.
That led to a bombshell conclusion in a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate: American spy agencies had "high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.
Current and former US officials say they are confident that Iran has no secret uranium-enrichment site outside the purview of UN nuclear inspections.
They also have confidence that any Iranian move toward building a functional nuclear weapon would be detected long before a bomb was made.
These intelligence findings are what underpin President Barack Obama`s argument that there is still time to see whether economic sanctions will compel Iran`s leaders to halt any program.
The Obama administration, relying on a top-priority intelligence collection program and after countless hours of debate, has concluded that Iranian leaders have not decided whether to actively construct a nuclear weapon, current and former officials said.
There is little argument, however, that Iran`s leaders have taken steps that would give them the option of becoming a nuclear-armed power.
Iran has enriched uranium, although not yet of sufficient quantity or purity to fuel a bomb, and has built secret enrichment sites, which were acknowledged only when unmasked.
Iran has, in years past, worked on designing a nuclear warhead, the complicated package of electronics and explosives that would transform highly enriched uranium into a fission bomb.