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US officials weigh Iran's nuclear weapons capability

Defense Secretary Gates said Tehran was not close to having a bomb. A new report in which senior advisers to Obama participated urges further sanctions.

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The Financial Times reports that a Washington think tank staffed by senior foreign-policy advisers to President Obama has recommended tougher sanctions on Iran. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns that Iran is seeking Russian surface-to-air missiles and that Israel may try to hit Iran's nuclear facilities before any Russian defenses are installed. US envoy Dennis Ross was among those involved in preparing the institute's report, though he is no longer there.

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Arguing that such a strike "might only slow Iran temporarily" and that the US itself may pay a "high price" from a backlash across the region, the report says the administration should broaden a campaign to dissuade international banks from doing business with Iran to include industrial and trading companies….
The report says that if the $800m (€631m, £558m) Russian missile sale goes ahead "the US should provide Israel with the capabilities to continue to threaten high value Iranian targets" with more modern aircraft and use such an offer "to gain leverage in pressuring Russia not to transfer the S-300".

The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be discussing Iran's nuclear program this week during a Middle East tour, her first to the region. Talks with Russia may touch on a suggestion that Moscow work harder to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for a slowdown in the US missile-shield program that has irked Russia.

An expert told Ynet, an Israeli website, that Iran was only a few months away from creating a nuclear bomb. Ephraim Asculai, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said he agreed with the IAEA's view that Iran hadn't yet produced enough weapons-grade uranium.

"The uranium produced by the Iranians today is not good enough for a nuclear bomb. And in any event, I believe that even if Iran has reached an amount of high quality uranium which would be enough for one bomb, it won't start creating it immediately. It will have to produce a slather of uranium before creating bombs."

Last month, Adm. Dennis Blair, the US director of national intelligence, told Congress that Iran had imported some weapons-grade material and was trying to enrich its own, but that the consensus view was that it still wasn't able to make a bomb, says Reuters. US intelligence agencies have previously concluded that Iran suspended a program to develop a nuclear warhead.

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