The Times quoted Western intelligence sources as saying the Iranians completed their research program to create weaponized uranium back in 2003.
Contrary to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report which claimed that Iran halted its nuclear activities because of the threat of an American invasion following the occupation of Iraq, the real reason for the halt was that the Iranians had figured out how to detonate a warhead that could be fitted on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles, according to the Times.
“If the Supreme Leader takes the decision [to build a bomb], we assess they have to enrich low-enriched uranium to highly-enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, which could take six months, depending on how many centrifuges are operating,” an intelligence source told the Times. “We don’t know if the decision was made yet.”
Aside from the Natanz plant, the source speculated that Iran may have built a number of small, secret facilities which store materials that can be developed for a nuclear bomb, the Times reported.
American officials briefed Israel last week on the administration’s ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to U.S. President Barack Obama‘s offer of dialogue.
In his meeting with Israeli officials, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones indicated that Tehran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a similar message during his visit here earlier this week. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said, they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
A senior source in Jerusalem said the American message to Israel in these talks was to “lower its profile” and refrain from “ranting and raving” about Iran in public until the international evaluation on Iran takes place at the end of September. “Until that date, we must give diplomacy a chance,” the official said.
“If they want to, they will be able to set off a uranium bomb within six months,” an analyst with Germany’s intelligence service, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), told the magazine.
“Nobody would have thought this possible some years ago,” an intelligence official told Stern.
The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Tehran for defying its demands to suspend uranium enrichment.
Some analysts say Iran may be close to having the required material for producing a bomb, but most say the weaponization process would then take one to two years due to technical and political hurdles.
“Weaponizing” enrichment would not escape the notice of UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unless it was done at a secret location.
Until now there have been no indications of any such covert diversion, a point made by the IAEA’s incoming director-general shortly after his election earlier this month.
Current IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said it is his “gut feeling” that Iran is seeking at least the capability to build nuclear weapons, in order to protect itself from perceived regional and U.S. threats.
Libyan leader: Peaceful nuclear program should be encouraged
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi says Iran should be encouraged to pursue its nuclear program as long as it is for peaceful purposes.
He said it is “unjust” to stop Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, but that it must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
The United States and Israel say Iran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is for generating power.
Libya in 2003 abandoned its own program to develop nuclear and chemical weapons.