The Biden administration expects Iran will be able to amass enough material to produce a nuclear weapon in less than a year — even if the 2015 agreement between Washington, Tehran and five other nations is revived, according to a new report.
White House officials concluded late last year that Iran’s nuclear program was too far advanced to roll back the so-called “breakout period” to the 12 months specified in the original deal negotiated by the Obama administration, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The term “breakout period” refers the length of time Iran would need to develop enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
Despite the shortened window, the Biden administration is plowing ahead with talks to rejoin the agreement under the premise that a new deal must be reached to give the US and other nations time to respond to an Iranian nuclear buildup, the report said.
The Journal added that the new breakout period length depends on what actions Iran takes with its current stockpile of enriched uranium and equipment for producing nuclear materials.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment to the newspaper on the breakout assessments and said the administration is confident a deal “would address our urgent nonproliferation concerns.”
“As we have said, we have only a few weeks to conclude an understanding, after which the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances will make return to the JCPOA impossible,” the spokesperson said, using the acronym for the accord’s formal name: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Iran began to accelerate its nuclear program after former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, with Tehran claiming that Washington violated critical tenets of the agreement.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in September that Iran was enriching uranium at levels higher than allowed under the accord and warned Tehran could produce enough material to make a bomb within two months.
Some former US officials believe any breakout period shorter than six months would significantly hamper America’s ability to respond to Iran’s nuclear buildup, according to the Journal.
But precisely how much time Iran needs to gather the material for a nuclear bomb hinges on Tehran’s ability to operate centrifuges, the speed of that equipment and the necessary skills needed to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, the report said.
Since mid-2019, Iran has expanded the building, installation and operation of centrifuges — producing enriched uranium at a faster rate than the older machines allowed under the 2015 accord.
It has since installed hundreds of these machines at nuclear facilities around the country, the report said.
“There’s nothing that a restored JCPOA will do to compensate for that increased knowledge and experience” Iran has gained, Robert Einhorn, a former senior State Department arms-control official, told the outlet.