Iran could expedite N-bomb: US

Statement intended to put pressure on allies for severe sanctions against Tehran

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring the country’s nuclear plant at Natanz in 2008. NYT

In the first public acknowledgment of the intelligence findings, the American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency declared on Wednesday that Iran now had what he called a “possible breakout capacity” if it decided to enrich its stockpile of uranium, converting it to bomb-grade material.

The statement by the ambassador, Glyn Davies, was intended to put pressure on American allies to move toward far more severe sanctions against Iran this month, perhaps including a cutoff of gasoline to the country, if it failed to take up President Obama’s invitation for serious negotiations.

But it could also complicate the administration’s efforts to persuade an increasingly impatient Israeli government to give diplomacy more time to work, and hold off from a military strike against Iran’s facilities.

In interviews over the past two months, intelligence and military officials, and members of the Obama administration, have said they are convinced that Iran has made significant progress on uranium enrichment, especially over the past year.

Iran has maintained that its continuing enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, that the uranium is solely for electric power and that its scientists have never researched weapons design. But in a 2007 announcement, the United States said that it had found evidence that Iran had worked on designs for making a warhead, though it determined that the project was halted in late 2003.

The new intelligence information collected by the Obama administration finds no convincing evidence that the design work has resumed.

The official American estimate is that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015, probably later rather than sooner. Meir Dagan, the director of the Mossad, Israel’s main spy agency, told the Israeli Parliament in June that unless action was taken, Iran would have its first bomb by 2014, according to an account in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Israeli officials have confirmed.

The New York Times

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