Expert: Iran To Reach Nuke Capability Soon

Washington, Feb. 29 - Iran is quickly reaching the point of nuclear weapons capability even as it hasn’t made a decision about actually building one, an Israeli nuclear expert said Wednesday.

“The situation is quite worrying,” Ephraim Asculai said on conference call held today by The Israel Project. “Iran has done everything to reach everything to reach a line that if they cross it, they will be able to manufacture nuclear weapons within a relatively short time.”

He said the program could reach that line, “give or take, in a couple months.”

Asculai, a senior fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel, previously worked at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for more than 40 years, mainly on issues of nuclear and environmental safety.

He said Iran’s stockpiles of 3.5 percent and 20 percent enriched uranium - a key ingredient in nuclear weaponry - meant that Iran could ascend to the 90 percent level needed to weaponize the element, in just a few months.

Iran is under United Nation and other international sanctions because of its refusal to open its nuclear facilities to inspection. Tehran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes, but a previous IAEA report last year concluded Iran was also carrying out actions that could only be related to the development of nuclear bombs.

Iranian leaders continue to defy international demands that their nuclear program be completely open to inspection, and the country is feeling the pressure of international economic sanctions. The national currency, the rial, has lost more than 50 percent of its value in the past three months, yet despite the sanctions, Tehran is apparently plowing ahead with the development of nuclear weapons.

Asculai said that the current sanctions regime - the European Union is set to halt all oil purchases from Iran on July 1 - is still not strong enough to persuade the Iranian authorities to rethink their efforts and start serious negotiations. Sporadic talks with Western powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency in the last 10 years have not yielded a change of course for the Islamic Republic or the ability for inspectors to observe various nuclear sites in the country.

U.N. officials confirmed reports that Iran had stonewalled the agency’s efforts to investigate allegations that Iran’s scientists had conducted extensive research on how to build a nuclear warhead, the Washington Postreported. When IAEA inspectors visited Iran last week, Iranian officials twice refused an IAEA request to visit a key research facility where some of the alleged experiments were said to have occurred.

“Now, they are playing for time, and they are very good at that game,” Asculai said.

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