UN nuclear chief: Iran ‘weeks, not months’ from enough uranium to make a bomb

Head of International Atomic Energy Agency stresses that is not the same time frame as would be needed to make a device, but says Iranian activity ‘raises eyebrows’

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on April 11, 2024. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on April 11, 2024. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has said that it would take Iran just weeks to have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb, and that Tehran’s activity, alongside the limited access it grants to its facilities, “raises eyebrows.”

But International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi told Deutsche Welle in a report published Monday that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities should be a “no-go.”

Grossi said that Iran is “weeks rather than months” away from having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

“But that does not mean that Iran has or would have a nuclear weapon in that space of time,” he added. “A functional nuclear warhead requires many other things independently from the production of the fissile material.”

Iran’s nuclear goals, he maintained, are “a matter of speculation,” though he criticized the country for its enrichment activity that “raises eyebrows” and its opaque dealings with UN nuclear inspectors, who are not being given the level of access to facilities that he believes they need.

Grossi said there are still unresolved issues about Iran’s nuclear program, such as traces of enriched uranium found in locations where it was not expected to be.

“When you put all of that together, then, of course, you end up with lots of question marks,” Grossi said, and noted that an IAEA delegation will soon be heading to Iran.

“I will be there to try to put these things back on track if they want to be believed,” he said.

In this March 30, 2005 file photo, an Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Grossi’s remarks came amid a recent flare in tensions between Israel and Iran that appeared to bring the two countries to the brink of open war. After Iran fired a barrage of hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel in response to Israel’s alleged killing of Revolutionary Guard generals in Syria, there was international fear that Israel could retaliate with a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Attacking nuclear facilities is an absolute no-go,” Grossi warned, while also condemning nuclear rhetoric in general.

“I believe that this normalization of talk about nuclear weapons, dropping nuclear weapons, getting nuclear weapons is absolutely deplorable,” he said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on Tehran’s nuclear program, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, in the early 2000s banning the development of nuclear weapons because they are contrary to “the spirit of Islam.”

But while Iran denies ever seeking such a weapon, Israel and the West believe the country had an active nuclear weapons program until at least 2003.

Grossi said in February that Iran has continued to enrich uranium at rates of up to 60 percent purity, which is far beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90%.

Iran claims its nuclear program is only for civilian use, pointing to the fatwa. However, experts say there is no civilian application for uranium enriched to that level, and Iran has been known to ramp up nuclear activity to flex its muscles during times of increased tensions with the West.

Israel and others have accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons despite the ban, lobbying for sanctions and a credible military threat should safeguards be breached.

A senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander warned last week that the country could review its nuclear policy — a reference to the fatwa against developing weapons. However, on Monday the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that nuclear weapons have no place in the country’s doctrine.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have abated somewhat after a tense first half of April that began with an alleged Israeli airstrike on a building in Iran’s consulate compound in Damascus, Syria, that killed seven IRGC members, including two generals.

Iran retaliated on April 13, launching over 300 missiles and drones, which Israel, with the help of the United States and other allies, intercepted almost entirely, though a seven-year-old Bedouin girl in the south was severely injured in the attack, and minimal damage was done to the Nevatim airbase outside Beersheba.

Israel, in response, was reported on Friday morning to have struck an airbase near Isfahan in central Iran, damaging a radar defense system. Iran downplayed the attack, saying no link to Israel was found, thus allaying fears of a wider regional war.

According to The New York Times, the radar system was guarding the secret Natanz nuclear facility, thought to be hidden deep underground. The strike was reported to be an Israeli message to Iran that it could conduct further, far more painful strikes without detection.

A landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers offered the country relief from sanctions in return for curbs intended to prevent it from producing nuclear weapons. Part of the terms of the deal was that UN inspectors would monitor Iran’s nuclear sites.

After the Trump administration pulled the US out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran began ramping up its nuclear program, stockpiling enriched uranium beyond the levels set by the agreement and enriching it to purity beyond the JCPOA terms.

Talks under the Biden administration aimed at bringing the US back into the JCPOA and Iran back in line with its terms have stalled, with no prospect of a breakthrough.

Most Popular
read more: