PM: Iran already has wherewithal to build nuclear weapons

UN agency report shows slowdown in enrichment, with only four centrifuges erected in past 3 months, compared to 1,500 in preceding 3 months

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The reactor building of the nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran (photo credit: AP/Mehr News Agency/Majid Asgaripour/File)
The reactor building of the nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran (photo credit: AP/Mehr News Agency/Majid Asgaripour/File)

Iran has decelerated its rate of uranium enrichment because it already possesses the basic infrastructure for producing a nuclear weapon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.

Responding to an International Atomic Energy Agency report claiming that Iran had substantially cut uranium enrichment since the election of President Hassan Rouhani last June, Netanyahu said he was “not impressed,” and that Iran still strives to acquire nuclear weapons.

“Iran is not expanding its nuclear program because it already has the foundations needed for nuclear weapons,” the prime minister said. “The question is not whether they are expanding the program, but how to stop the Iranian military nuclear program.”

Netanyahu, who was speaking in English to a gathering in Jerusalem of young diaspora Jews who are in Israel as part of the Masa volunteerism and study program, added that Iran was under immense pressure due to international sanctions, and asserted that the Islamic Republic’s representatives were eager to sign an agreement with Western powers.

“Some people argue that if a deal is not reached with Iran, Iran will run away from negotiations,” he said. “I have news for you — they will not run away, it is the deal of their dreams.”

“I promise, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he concluded.

According to the IAEA report published earlier Thursday, only four centrifuges for the enrichment of high grade uranium had been erected in the Islamic Republic during the past three months, compared to 1,500 in the previous three months, Channel 2 News reported.

The report also deemed Iran a long way from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, as it had enriched only 196 kilograms of uranium, whereas a weapon would require a stockpile of at least 250 kilograms of enriched uranium.

Over the past weekend in Geneva, the US, Russia, France, China, Britain and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — came close to signing an interim agreement with Iran that would offer limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity, while enrichment to the level of 3.5% would continue.

Production of a nuclear weapon requires uranium enrichment to a purity above 90%.

US officials say the deal currently under discussion would be an interim agreement only, intended to suspend Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapons capability for six months while a permanent arrangement is negotiated.

The world powers and Iran are scheduled to meet again on November 20 in Geneva to resume talks.

Netanyahu has been vehemently opposed to the possible interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran since news of the possible breakthrough emerged last Thursday, leading to a rare public disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington.

“There are not just two possibilities on the Iranian issue: A bad deal — or war. This is incorrect,” Netanyahu said in the Knesset Wednesday. “There is a third possibility — and that is continuing the pressure of sanctions. I would even say that a bad deal is liable to lead to the second, undesired, result.”

Iran has denied it intends to produce nuclear weapons, a claim disbelieved by Western powers, Israel and watchdog agencies such as the IAEA.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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