* U.S. will continue to ‘pressure Iran’
* U.S. focused on diplomatic, not military, approach
By David Alexander and Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - A U.N. agency report this week is expected to “echo and reinforce” U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and Washington will work to increase pressure on Tehran to abandon any atomic weapons ambitions, the White House said on Monday.
White House spokesman Jay Carney downplayed questions about the possibility of military action targeting Iran’s nuclear program and said the United States was focused on continued diplomacy to convince Tehran to meet international obligations.
“You can be sure that we will continue to work to pressure Iran, to isolate Iran,” Carney told a White House briefing. “And we know from our own analysis as well as what the president of Iran recently said that those efforts are having an impact.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, is expected to release a report this week that will detail research in Iran possibly geared toward developing nuclear weapons, adding fuel to Western concerns about a program Tehran says is for energy production.
“We certainly expect it to echo and reinforce what we’ve been saying about Iran’s behavior and its failure to live up to its international obligations,” Carney said. “It will, I’m sure, echo our concern about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Diplomats have said the IAEA report will shed light on highly technical and complex scientific work in Iran that could be related to producing nuclear weapons, but it is not likely to reveal “smoking gun” proof of an intent to make arms.
The report is expected to include fresh evidence of research and other activities with no ready explanation other than weapons work, including studies linked to the development of an atomic bomb trigger and computer modeling of a nuclear weapon.
It will expand on concerns voiced by the IAEA in recent years over Western intelligence allegations that Iran had linked projects to process uranium, test explosives and modify a missile cone for a nuclear payload, the diplomats said.
David Albright, a former IAEA official who now leads the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said evidence showed Iran had the information it needed to create a nuclear weapon.
Albright said he had not seen the IAEA report, but was familiar with a lot of the underlying information.
He said Iran had obtained designs for an R265 generator, a device used to initiate a nuclear chain reaction with precisely timed explosions.
A Ukrainian scientist who worked in the Soviet nuclear weapons complex helped Iran with the trigger, which initiates the explosives in a very distinct way, Albright said.
“Iran could never have done that on its own,” he said.
Iran has not mastered the technology, “but they know how to do it and they are learning how to do it,” Albright said.
“I don’t think they’ve mastered it in the sense that they could launch it on a ... missile,” he said. “But they certainly know enough to be able to build a nuclear weapon so they could test it underground.”
Albright estimated Iran was about a year from having a nuclear device if it decided to move forward and build one.
U.S. intelligence officials in 2007 estimated with high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and expressed moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted the program as of mid-2007.
However, they expressed moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran was keeping its options open to develop a nuclear weapon.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress earlier this year that Iran still appeared to be “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” partly by continuing to develop the necessary capabilities.