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Iran could develop atomic bomb in 6 months, ex-energy agency head warns

Inside the Board room, IAEA Director General ElBaradei (center) is flanked by Mr. Olli Heinonen, Deputy Director General for Safeguards (left), and Japan Ambassador Yukiya Amano, Chairman of the IAEA Board. (D. Calma/IAEA)
June 07, 2019

Iran could have a functioning atomic bomb in six to eight months, according to the former head of the security at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Olli Heinonen, who also served as IAEA deputy director general, issued a dire warning to Israel and other Gulf nations that Iran is capable of developing such nuclear weapons in less than eight months, Israel’s Arutz Sheva reported Wednesday.

“Israelis need to be worried, and the Gulf states also have reason for concern,” Heinonen said. “How will you be able to ensure your security if Iran achieves nuclear abilities?”

Heinonen criticized the IAEA for not properly handling its assessment of Iran’s capabilities and ignoring Iran’s quest for developing nuclear weapons. He said the agency has failed in expressing the dire threat Iran poses.

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Heinonen met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, during which they discussed Iran’s nuclear activities.

“It’s very clear Iran is lying. Iran is continuing to work toward an arsenal of nuclear bombs, and we’re committed to stop it,” Netanyahu said, according to Times of Israel.

“Thank you for your forthright analysis and your clear-cut conclusion. I thank you for pointing out what Iran is doing,” Netanyahu told Heinonen.

“Thank you for this brave action of taking them out [the nuclear archive documents] because this gives the material for the international community to think about it and it’s a good place on how to talk with the Iranians, how to stop it,” Heinonen said, referring to Israel’s bust on an Iranian nuclear storage warehouse where they recovered around 100,000 documents.

Heinonen believes “another 80 percent” of Iran’s nuclear archives remain in their storage facilities. He said the documents showed Iran’s plans to manufacture nukes that the IAEA was never made aware of.

“There was a cohesive plan to manufacture nuclear weapons, and when and after the plan was halted, the IAEA was not provided, as was stated by Iran, with a full disclosure of the past nuclear program,” he said.

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“The documents show that Iran’s atomic ambitions were much further along than previously known. Most worrisome, breakout time for a missile-deliverable nuclear warhead was much shorter than U.S. officials thought likely,” Heinonen said in a co-written op-ed for The Hill last month.

“Many are turning a blind eye to Tehran’s dangerous transgressions. … Iran has been in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the 2015 nuclear deal, and other non-proliferation commitments,” he added.

He called for “more robust IAEA inspections” on Iranian nuclear facilities and the removal and destruction of all “proliferation-sensitive information and equipment” found in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Non-action is not an option,” Heinonen warned.

Heinonen now works with the Washington, D.C. group Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a senior adviser on science and nonproliferation.