By Gary Thomas, VOA, Dearborn, Michigan
The United States and its allies have long contended that Iran is embarked on a path to becoming a nuclear weapons power.
In an exclusive VOA interview, CIA Director Leon Panetta says that Iran is acquiring nuclear knowledge and capability, but that there are differences among the country's leaders about whether to actually build a bomb.
"Our view is and our intelligence is that while they are proceeding to develop a nuclear capability in terms of power and low-grade uranium, that there is still very much a debate going on within Iran as to whether or not they ought to proceed further. To some extent that provides an opening, hopefully, to try to influence the future direction of Iran," he said.
Panetta spoke to VOA before speaking at a dinner of the Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Associated Press has reported that experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, believe Iran has already developed the capability to build a nuclear weapon. However, the IAEA issued a statement in response that it has no concrete proof that Iran is engaged in a nuclear weapons program.
Iran's June presidential election, in which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, was marred by opposition allegations of vote fraud. Thousands of protesters took to the streets, and the government responded with a massive crackdown, arresting and putting on trial many opposition supporters. The CIA chief says the political landscape in Iran is still shifting and moving as a result.
"The fact is, we're probably still not sure of all the implications coming out of this election," Panetta said. "One thing is for sure: that there continues to be turmoil in Iran as the result of the election. While the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad have consolidated their positions and seem to have control in Iran, there continues to be the voices of opposition that are raised."
Panetta says the implications of the election for the United States are also murky as the Obama administration seeks to engage with Iran.
"The end result of that is that it's still difficult to know whether or not it means the leaders there will be more hardline and therefore more difficult to engage in diplomatic relationships with the United States, or whether they view what happened in the election as a signal to them to try to see if they can establish a better relationship with the United States and with the rest of the world," Panetta said.
On Thursday President Obama announced he was scrapping plans for a controversial missile defense shield based in Eastern Europe and was ordering a new system designed to intercept Iranian short and medium-range missiles. The previous plan envisioned a greater threat from longer-range missiles. Analysts have said that even if Iran did develop a nuclear weapon, they would still need to develop the technology to deliver it.
The U.S. and five other countries - the so-called P5-plus-One - are set to begin wide-ranging talks with Iran. CIA director Panetta says the U.S. will be closely exploring in the coming few weeks whether a new relationship with Iran can work after the recent turmoil there.
Iranian Opposition Protesters Take To Streets Of Tehran, Other Cities - Tens of thousands of people wearing green accessories -- the sign of the opposition -- have come out on to the streets of Tehran and other major cities for the first mass protests against the Iranian government in two months. Clashes were reported between the opposition protestors and supporters of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, backed by police and Basij militia vigilantes. It is not yet known how many protesters were arrested.
"Green Quds" Show of Force by Iranian Opposition - Tens of thousands of
Iranians have come out on to the streets of Tehran and other major cities for
the first mass protests against the Iranian government in two months. Shouting
slogans, the protestors denounced Ahmadinejad as stealing the June presidential
election: "Liar, liar, where is your 63 percent?" They also demanded the release
of thousands of people arrested in government crackdowns on previous rallies
against Iran's contested presidential election results. Demonstrations also took
place in other major Iranian cities including Isfahan, Mashhad, Qom, Shiraz, and
Reformist Journalist Says Protests Put 'Ball In Court' of Opposition Leader Musavi - A Tehran-based journalist, who asked not to be named because she fears retribution from Iranian authorities, told RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari that the latest anti-Ahmadinejad protests show the Green movement is still alive. She says it is now time for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi to seize the initiative. 9/18/09
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Has A Lot To Lose - From the earliest days of the Islamic state in Iran, it was clear the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) would not remain a mere military force. The IRGC differed from the army the previous regimes kept. It was an ideological institution, in charge of safeguarding the Islamic regime. Furthermore, the constitution entitles the IRGC to engage in economic and educational activities during peacetime.
... Payvand News - 09/18/09 ... --