Iran now possesses enough fissile material to produce at least one nuclear bomb, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mullen said over the weekend. Mullen’s statement follows a February 19 report released by the IAEA that concluded it had underestimated the amount of Iran’s enriched uranium by about one third.
However, Iran is presently believed to be more focused on developing weapons-grade uranium than on engineering warheads to deliver it. Reuters:
[Iran is] undertaking two of three activities needed for a nuclear arms program – developing uranium-enrichment technology and nuclear-capable ballistic missile systems. U.S. intelligence agencies have said Iran suspended developing a nuclear warhead, the third activity.
“Iran having nuclear weapons, I’ve believed for a long time, is a very very bad outcome – for the region and for the world,” Mullen said.
According to the IAEA report, Iran has just over a ton of low-enriched uranium. But before being used in a nuclear weapon, this uranium would need to be further purified by a process that still remains technically difficult for the country. Thus, Secretary of Defense Gates urged action while time is still available; the NYT:
“They’re not close to a stockpile. They’re not close to a weapon at this point. And so, there is some time. The question is whether you can increase the level of the sanctions and the cost to the Iranians of pursuing that program at the same time you show them an open door if they want to engage with the Europeans, with us and so on if they walk away from that program.”
A report scheduled to be published this week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy urges stronger action by the U.S. to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It calls for measures such as fresh sanctions, sharing intelligence with the UN to ensure compliance with these sanctions, and providing Israel with the military capability to avoid an air defense system Iran is expected to purchase from Russia. The report’s bipartisan working group included current Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Gary Samore, and Robert Einhorn.
Russia is now being viewed as a potential key player in disrupting Tehran’s program. Analysts have recently suggested that the administration may use the planned U.S. missile defense shield for east Europe as part of a deal that would see Russia end its technical support to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility. Indeed, Medvedev said yesterday that he hopes for specific proposals about missile defense when he meets with Obama at the upcoming London G20 summit in April.
Russian cooperation will be critical to the success of a renewed Western push to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (if it’s not too late already). The U.S. and the EU need to convince Moscow that a nuclear-armed Tehran represents the major threat to international security that the West says it does.
Related New Atlanticist Commentary:
- Report: Iran Nearly Out of Uranium – Peter Cassata
- Kissinger: Iran Diplomacy More Than Just Talk – James Joyner
Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.