(Updates throughout with quotes from Kerry and McCain, details
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, April 8 Iran can produce fissile
material for an atomic weapon in two months, U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry on Tuesday told a Senate hearing in which he
faced tough questions from lawmakers about negotiations with
Iran over its nuclear program.
"I think it's public knowledge today that we're operating
with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months.
That's been in the public domain," Kerry testified at a Senate
Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
"So six months to 12 months is - I'm not saying that's what
we'd settle for, but even that is significantly more," Kerry
said in response to a question about whether a "breakout" window
of up to a year was the negotiators' goal.
The United States and five other world powers began a new
round of talks with Iran in Vienna on Tuesday to try to reach a
broad settlement over its disputed nuclear program, which Tehran
denies is aimed at building a bomb.
Iran and the six powers agreed an interim deal in November
under which it curbed some uranium enrichment activities in
return for limited relief from sanctions imposed for its nuclear
Kerry said such a "breakout" window did not mean Iran would
have a warhead or other delivery system. "It's just having one
bomb's worth, conceivably, of material, but without any
necessary capacity to put it in anything, to deliver it, to have
any mechanism to do so," he said.
Several committee members, both Democrats and Republicans,
take a harder line on the Islamic Republic than many
administration officials, and have voiced deep skepticism about
prospects for the talks under way in Vienna.
Many are deeply unhappy that President Barack Obama's
administration may sign an agreement with Tehran that would
allow it any uranium enrichment.
"On the major issues, this administration is failing very
badly," said Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Several committee members, including its chairman, Democrat
Robert Menendez, backed the imposition of new sanctions, even
though administration negotiators have said any new economic
restrictions could endanger the talks.
Kerry said Washington and its allies would be prepared to
act if Iran were to produce fissile material, and not just with
"If they're overtly breaking out and breaking an agreement
and starting to enrich and pursue it, they've made a huge
consequential decisions. And the greater likelihood is we are
going to respond immediately," Kerry said.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina
Chiacu and Mohammad Zargham)