UK top spy: Iran two years away from going nuclear
In an unusually public forum, the head of Britain's foreign intelligence agency, MI6, has forecast that Iran would likely achieve a nuclear weapons capability within two years, strengthening prospects for a possible military strike by the US or Israel, a UK daily reported on Friday.
The Daily Telegraph quoted Sir John Sawers, once the ranking British diplomat on the Iranian nuclear issue and now head of the Secret Intelligence Service, as making the disclosure last week to a gathering of around 100 high-ranking civil servants.
The reported remarks play into a highly contentious debate over Iran's intentions and capabilities, in which estimates have varied widely. American intelligence agencies have cited a 2007 assessment stating that Iran, in fact, suspended research on nuclear weapons technology in 2003 and had not decided to take the final steps needed to build a bomb.
But Britain and Israel in particular, have interpreted the same data to mean that a decision has been made to move to a nuclear weapons capability. For its part, Iran has frequently said it has no intention of building such weapons.
Sir John was also said to have maintained that covert operations by British intelligence agents had prevented Iran from acquiring the technology as early as in 2008. A British government official, speaking in return for anonymity under departmental rules, said Sir John had been "speaking off the record to civil servants at a leadership event and what he said has been said by others before."
According to The Daily Telegraph, the remarks were Sir John's first publicly reported assessment of Iran's nuclear ambitions since his appointment as head of MI6 in 2009. Tehran, he said, was now "two years away" from becoming a "a nuclear weapons state," The Daily Telegraph reported. and when %it achieved that status, the US and Israel would have to decide whether to strike %militarily.