The head of the Central Intelligence Agency has warned that Iran could enrich uranium to weapons-grade within weeks, but said the United States does not believe Iranian leaders have yet decided to do so.
The comment by William Burns, made during an interview with CBS News aired Saturday, came after inspectors from the UN atomic agency found uranium in Iran enriched to 84 percent purity, the closest its been to the 90% purity needed for nuclear weapons.
A news website linked to the highest reaches of Iran’s theocracy on Thursday acknowledged the accusation.
“To the best of our knowledge, we don’t believe that the supreme leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003,” Burns said.
“But the other two legs of the stool, meaning enrichment programs, have obviously advanced very far,” he added.
The interviewer then noted the International Atomic Energy Organization’s recent finding that Iran has enriched uranium to 84%.
“They’ve advanced very far to the point where it would only be a matter of weeks before they could enrich to 90%, if they chose to cross that line, and also in terms of their missile systems, their ability to deliver a nuclear weapon once they’ve developed it has also been advancing as well,” the CIA chief warned.
“We don’t see evidence that they’ve made a decision to resume that weaponization program,” he stressed again, “but the other dimensions of this challenge I think are growing at a worrisome pace to.”
.@margbrennan: "Have Iran's leaders made the decision to pursue a nuclear weapon?"
CIA Dir. William Burns: "To the best of our knowledge, we don't believe that the Supreme Leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program…" pic.twitter.com/b5vnO8TGjs
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 25, 2023
The latest revelations about Iran’s nuclear capabilities renew pressure on the West to address Tehran’s program, which had been publicly contained by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that the US unilaterally withdrew from in 2018.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the 84% enrichment allegedly took place, though the IAEA has said it found two cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s underground Fordo facility “interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran to the agency in November last year.” Iran is known to have been enriching uranium at Fordo up to 60% purity — a level that nonproliferation experts already say has no civilian use for Tehran.
Iran also enriches uranium at its Natanz nuclear site.
Weapons-grade uranium is enriched up to 90%. While the IAEA’s director-general has warned Iran now has enough uranium to produce “several” nuclear bombs if it chooses, it likely would take months more to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put on a missile.
The new tensions over Iran’s program also take place against the backdrop of a shadow war between Iran and Israel that has spilled out across the wider Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who long has advocated military action against Iran, mentioned it again in a talk last week.
“How do you stop a rogue nation from acquiring nuclear weapons?” Netanyahu rhetorically asked. “You had one that’s called Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It was stopped by military force, ours. You had a second one that is called Syria that tried to develop nuclear weapons. And it was stopped by military action, ours.”
He added: “A necessary condition, and an often sufficient condition, is credible military action. The longer you wait, the harder that becomes. We’ve waited very long.”