WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has assured Israel that Iran’s process of converting nuclear material into a working weapon would take at least a year, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The newspaper cited White House officials saying they believed the assessment had dimmed prospects of a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next year.
Israel, widely assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, has hinted at military strikes, as a last resort, to deny Iran the means to make a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
The United States, the European Union and the U.N. Security Council have imposed sanctions on Iran over a nuclear program the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
“We think that they have roughly a year dash time,” Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues, was quoted as saying, referring to the key question of how long it would take Iran to convert existing stocks of low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material.
“A year is a very long period of time,” Samore said.
He said the United States believed international inspectors would detect such a move by Iran within weeks, leaving a considerable amount of time for Washington and Israel to consider military strikes, the Times reported.
U.S. and Israeli officials now believe Iran would not be close to that stage anytime soon, the Times reported, citing administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials cited “evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program” as the basis for the new assessment of how long it would take Tehran to build a nuclear weapon, the Times reported.
“Either they don’t have the machines, or they have real questions about their technical competence,” Samore told the newspaper.
Israeli intelligence officials had argued that Iran could complete such a race for the bomb in months, while U.S. intelligence agencies have come to believe in the past year the timeline is longer, the newspaper said.
Reporting by Joanne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney