The Director of National Intelligence said there can’t be "100 percent certitude" that officials can detect any attempt by Iran to break the terms of a nuclear agreement, but he said the hotly-contested deal will provide monitors with more access than they have had in the past.
"Now is it 100 percent lock-proof guaranteed? No, we couldn't say that," James Clapper said in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum Friday. "But it puts us in a far better place in terms of insight and access than we have today."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the Iran nuclear agreement, which was reached between the U.S. and other world powers and Iran on July 14 and offers an easing of economic sanctions if Tehran curbs its nuclear program.
Netanyahu has said the U.S. should hold out for a better deal, and called Iran a "zealot country." He contends that Iran — long suspected of harboring enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon — cannot be trusted with any sort of nuclear program.
"I think it is in their minds not exaggerated," Clapper said of the concerns of Netanyahu and what he said was a majority of Israelis. "They see it as an existential threat," he said.
Clapper said that while Netanyahu and part of the Israeli public may feel that way, “I think by and large our two intelligence communities, the Israeli intelligence enterprise and we, are pretty much in agreement on Iran's capabilities and intentions.”
Iran is also backing Shiite fighters in Iraq and Yemen. Clapper said that the nuclear deal likely won’t change Iranian behavior in the region, which he said includes the support of Hezbollah, which has been labeled a terrorist organization.
"For me it kind of boils down to, if you have a choice between having a state sponsor of terrorism who has a nuclear capability or a state sponsor of terrorism without a nuclear capability, I think I'd take the latter choice," Clapper said.
The Obama administration has been lobbying to build support for the agreement in Congress. Secretary of State John Kerry told skeptical Republicans this week that there is no "fantasy" deal that is a better alternative.
The deal still faces a vote in Congress, although it is unclear whether Republicans and some Democrats who object to the deal will actually be able to override the decision — and Obama has threatened to veto any attempt to reject the accord. Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement.