updated 9/16/2008 8:37:46 PM ET 2008-09-17T00:37:46

Iran and North Korea both have the capability to produce nuclear weapons but al-Qaida is the CIA's top nuclear concern because it is most likely to use them, agency director Michael Hayden said Tuesday.

"There is no greater national security threat facing the United States than al-Qaida and its associates," Hayden said, according to a copy of his remarks prepared for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

With regard to North Korea, a known nuclear power, and Iran, Hayden said: "The question is not of capability, but intent."

In 2006, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test, removing any doubt it had the means to make a nuclear warhead.

Iran has not yet demonstrated a nuclear explosion, but Hayden said it has the scientific and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons "eventually." It fuels suspicion by refusing to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

"Tehran at a minimum is keeping open its option to develop nuclear weapons," Hayden said.

A U.S. intelligence assessment issued last year said Iran halted weapons design work in 2003, and that the nuclear weapons program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Hayden said intelligence still supports that conclusion.

Hayden's comments come the same day the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency presented intelligence to 35 nations alleging Iran has plans to redesign a missile to accommodate a nuclear payload.

The Iranian representative to the organization says the information was fabricated. Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. representative to the IAEA, said the evidence shows Iran has a weapons program.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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