U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Senate hearing on Tuesday that Iran has the ability to produce fissile material for a nuclear bomb in two months, if it so decided.
“I think it’s public knowledge today that we’re operating with a time period for a so-called ‘break-out’ of about two months. That’s been in the public domain,” Kerry said in comments carried by Reuters.
Iran’s “break-out” time is defined as how long it would take it to produce fissile material for one nuclear weapon, if it decided to build such weapons of mass destruction.
Kerry’s comments in Washington highlighted Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions and the wide divisions between the two sides that could still foil a deal between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
The overarching goal of the powers - Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany and the United States- in the talks is to persuade Iran to scale back its program to the point that it would take it much longer, perhaps as much as a year, to produce fuel for a bomb if it chose to do so.
To lengthen this potential timeline, the powers want Iran to cut back the number of centrifuges it operates to refine uranium and the overall amount of enriched uranium it produces, as well as to limit its research into new technologies and submit to invasive inspections by the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog.
Iran says its nuclear fuel-making activity is only for peaceful purposes and wants the West to lift crippling economic sanctions as part of any final accord with the powers.
Western powers and Iran have held a series of meetings which they hope will culminate in a broad settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute that threatens to sink the Middle East into a new war.
The meetings so far have been used by the sides largely as an opportunity to spell out their positions on issues such as the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts, its contested nuclear facilities, rather than to narrow their differences.
Israel has threatened to attack its long-time foe Iran if diplomatic efforts fail. Iran says it is Israel’s assumed atomic arsenal that threatens peace and stability in the Middle East.