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Iran could have nukes in ‘a matter of weeks,’ Blinken says

Cascade of gas centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium. (U.S. Department of Energy Archives/Released)
February 02, 2021

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iran could have enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon in just weeks.

In an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell on Sunday, President Joe Biden’s secretary of state said that if Iran continues to lift restraints imposed under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it could put them in a position to build a nuclear weapon “in a matter of weeks.”

“The bottom line is, they are getting closer to the point where they would be either a threshold nuclear power or actually a nuclear power,” Blinken said.

Iran recently enriched 17 kilograms of uranium to 20 percent purity. 90 percent purity is needed for weapons-grade uranium. Iran’s uranium enrichment is well beyond the 3.67 percent limit they agreed to as a condition of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and implemented a range of sanctions against Iran for aggression in the region. Iran has responded by ramping up uranium enrichment and threatening to withdraw from the deal. It has now given the Biden administration a Feb. 21 deadline to rejoin.

Last week, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, said, said “the window is closing” and Biden “must act quickly” to end sanctions imposed on Iran under Trump, and return to the deal.

Ravanchi said, “We have said time and again that if the U.S. decides to go back to its international commitments and lift all the illegal sanctions against Iran, we will go back to the full implementation of JCPOA, which will benefit all sides.”

Asked on Friday about Ravanchi’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to provide a specific timeline for the Biden administration’s approach to Iran talks.

“The first step here is for Iran to comply with the significant nuclear constraints under the deal,” Psaki said at the White House press briefing on Friday.

Blinken has said the Biden administration would consult with allies, including Israel, before rejoining the Iran deal. Israel itself has threatened to attack Iran if the U.S. sanctions against Iran ease, or if the U.S. returns to the Iran deal in its current condition.

Lawmakers in the U.S. have also shown opposition to returning to the deal. In a December letter obtained by Real Clear Politics, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) urged then-President Trump to submit the Iran deal to the Senate for consideration as a treaty. The Senate has the constitutional role to provide advice and consent, by a two-thirds vote, for treaties entered into under the executive branch. The U.S. became a party to the Iran deal under the contention that the deal is not a treaty, and thus not subject to the Senate’s advice and consent role. Cruz wrote that by submitting the Iran deal for Senate consent, the Senate would “be able to satisfy its constitutional role to provide advice and consent in the event any future administration attempts to revive these dangerous deals.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) also told Blinken during his confirmation hearing, “I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity would be insufficient.”

During his interview with NBC, Blinken was also asked about whether the release of detained Americans could become a condition of its own in negotiating a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Blinken said, “Irrespective of … any deal, those Americans need to be released. Period,” adding, “We’re going to focus on making sure that they come home one way or another.”