WASHINGTON – Iran used negotiations with the European Union to play for time and has now achieved the ability to both develop nuclear weapons and deliver them, a senior Bush administration official said Monday.
At a news conference at the Foreign Press Center, Robert G. Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control, cited "tremendous resources" as well as a "very sophisticated, a very advanced scientific and technical community" as helpful to Iran.
He offered no assessment of how long it might take Iran to produce nuclear weapons.
President Bush, approving of a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, said in a statement Saturday that Iran was "continuing to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons."
Joseph took it a step further. "I would say that Iran does have the capability to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them," he said in a response to a question.
With the Europeans having declared two years of negotiations with Iran at a dead-end, Joseph said "there is no end of diplomacy" and that taking Iran to the Security Council was "moving diplomacy to the next level."
"We are giving every chance to diplomacy to work," Joseph said.
At the same time, the official said, "No options are off the table. We cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran."
"What is necessary to stop Iran," he said, "is a firm indication that the international community not only will speak to the issue but will take whatever measures are necessary to convince Iran that it is in its interest to forgo a nuclear weapons capability."
In a compromise agreement with Russia, the administration has agreed to delay any proposal for action against Iran, such as political or economic sanctions, at least until early March.
In the interim, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We will wait and see what they (Iran) say, and more important, what they do."