Israel’s energy minister says it would take Iran six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon – a timeline twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration.
Israel is wary of the Biden administration’s intent to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and has long opposed the agreement. Washington argues that the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal backfired by prompting Iran to abandon caps on nuclear activities.
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Speaking last month a day before he took office as US secretary of state, Antony Blinken said the so-called “breakout time” – in which Iran could ramp up enrichment of uranium to bomb-fuel purity – “has gone from beyond a year [under the deal] to about three or four months”.
He said he based his comments on information in public reporting.
But Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a radio interview, said the Trump administration “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project and entire force build-up”.
“In terms of enrichment, they [Iranians] are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year if they do everything required,” he told public broadcaster, Kan. “As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected allegations of Tehran being months away from developing enough “fissile material” for a nuclear bomb.
“I think that is a statement of concern that is more addressed to the public opinion than to reality,” Zarif said.
“Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon. If we wanted to build a nuclear weapon, we could have done it some time ago, but we decided that nuclear weapons would not augment our security and are in contradiction to our ideological views.”
‘Old failed policies’
The foreign minister also warned that the US does not have “unlimited” time to return to the 2015 nuclear accord.
“The United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready – immediately – to respond,” Zarif said.
“The timing is not the issue. The issue is whether the United States, whether the new administration, wants to follow the old failed policies of the Trump administration or not.”
Iran has recently accelerated its breaches of the nuclear deal, rollbacks that started in 2019 in response to the US withdrawal from the agreement.
The last quarterly estimates by the UN nuclear watchdog in November showed Iran’s stock of enriched uranium had risen to 2.4 tonnes – more than 10 times the amount allowed under the deal, but still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes it had before.
Since then, Iran has started enriching uranium to higher purity, returning to the 20 percent it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5 percent. The deal sets a limit of 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent that is weapons-grade.