WASHINGTON — Despite President Bush’s claims that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons that could trigger ”World War III,” experts in and out of government say there’s no conclusive evidence that Tehran has an active nuclear-weapons program.

Even his own administration appears divided about the immediacy of the threat. While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney speak of an Iranian weapons program as a fact, Bush’s point man on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, has attempted to ratchet down the rhetoric.

”Iran is seeking a nuclear capability . . . that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability,” Burns said in an interview Oct. 25 on PBS.

”I don’t think that anyone right today thinks they’re working on a bomb,” said another U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

Outside experts say the operative words are ”right today.” They say Iran may have been actively seeking to create a nuclear-weapons capacity in the past and still could break out of its current uranium-enrichment program and start a weapons program. They, too, lack definitive proof but cite a great deal of circumstantial evidence.

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