JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday it would take Iran around six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration.
Israel is wary of the Biden administration’s intent to reenter the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and has long opposed the agreement. Washington argues that the previous Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal backfired by prompting Iran to abandon caps on nuclear activities.
Speaking last month a day before he took office as U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the so-called “breakout time” - in which Iran might 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.”
Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weaponry, has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, which it started violating in 2019 response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against it.
The last quarterly estimates by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in November show that 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% it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5%. The deal sets a limit of 3.67%, far below the 90% that is weapons grade.
Writing by Dan Williams and Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean
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