WASHINGTON – U.S. officials say Iran's accelerated nuclear program could produce one weapon in roughly a year, if the country decided to go that route.
But having said that Iran could make a nuclear bomb in about a year if it wants to, a top U.S. general then seemingly backtracked and said it would still take longer than that to make the bomb usable.
Gen. James Cartwright says that, historically, it takes a country three to five years to make such a leap. Cartwright is the nation's second highest-ranking military officer.
The timeline he cited Wednesday could be shortened if Iran pursued ways to deliver a weapon at the same time as it worked to build a bomb.
Military and intelligence officials testifying before Congress Wednesday would not publicly address whether the U.S. has changed its 4-year-old assessment that Iran isn't actively seeking a bomb, according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. government has prepared a new, classified, assessment of Iranian nuclear ability and intent, and this latest assessment seems to dramatically push up the timetable previous Obama administration official have given for an Iranian nuke.
Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium with the number of centrifuges it has installed to build one nuclear bomb in as little as a year, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said on Wednesday.
"The general consensus -- not knowing again the exact number of centrifuges that we actually have visibility into -- is we're talking one year," Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess told a Senate panel.
Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said President Barack Obama has made clear all options are on the table to rein in Iran's nuclear program but that "military options are not preferable and we continue to believe that the most effective approach at this point in time is the combination of diplomacy and pressure."
This newest assessment seemed to push up the timetable by a matter of degrees, especially since Iran in its continuous stream of propaganda has assured the world that it is moving as fast as it can to become a nuclear power.
Iran will join the global nuclear club within one month, according to the deputy research chief of the Islamic republic’s Atomic Energy of Iran (AEOI).
The Iranian news agency Fars on Tuesday quoted Behzad Soltani, who also serves as the secretary-general of the AEOI’s Scientific Cooperation Council, as saying that “no country would ever think about attacking Iran” once the nuclear threshold has been crossed.
"We do not intend to use the peaceful nuclear energy merely for generating electricity and energy, rather our next step would be expanding use of this technology,” Soltani reportedly said. Radiation, he said, can ensure that “foodstuff, proteins and vegetables are preserved for a longer time and with a higher quality.”
Also on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates expanded on his declaration to a talk show last Sunday that Iran is not currently capable of building a nuclear bomb, telling reporters it may take Iran a year or more to produce a weapon.
When asked about reports that Iran could be within months of having a bomb Gates said, "I don’t believe it."
"I think that most estimates that I've seen haven't changed since the last time we talked about it, which is probably at least a year, and maybe more," Gates said on board a flight to South America, according to Fox News.
Meanwhile, General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. that Iran's nuclear program is of "enormous concern."
"People ask me constantly you know what keeps you awake at night... it often can be Iran," Petraeus said on Tuesday, Fox News reported. He said a diplomatic hand was extended, but they chose not to take it. "They rebuffed the world and that has now led the world’s leaders to the pressure track."
Petraeus jokingly referred to Iran's leader, President Ahmadinejad, as "a top recruiting officer for US Central Command."
"Each time he steps up to the podium when he denies the existence of the holocaust... when he announces new centrifuge design, whatever it is, it sends ripples through the rest of the region through the Arab world," said the ranking U.S. general in the Middle East.
These ripples have prompted Arab allies to interact with Central Command in ways previously not seen, Petraeus said. Just last month, for example, Secretary Gates visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss more comprehensive missile defense systems within their borders, directed at Iran.
His biggest concern, Petraeus said, is the idea that a nuclear weapon or nuclear material could get in the hands of terrorists.
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