So says a report from the Institute for Science and International Security, anyway. USA Today notes that the White House still says that Iran is more than a year away from having the capability to build a functioning nuclear warhead, but if the report is true, it may explain why Saudi Arabia and Israel are publicly rebuking the White House:
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA’s top nuclear experts.
The new assessment comes as the White House invited Senate staffers to a briefing on negotiations with Iran as it is trying to persuade Congress not to go ahead with a bill to stiffen sanctions against Iran.
“Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran,” stated the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. “An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further.”
David Albright, president of the institute and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, said the estimate means that Iran would have to eliminate more than half of its 19,000 centrifuges to extend the time it would take to build a bomb to six months.
This could explain a few things, especially the Iranian outreach to the US. The Iranians may be so close to a nuclear weapon that negotiations now can’t stop the inevitable “breakout,” which means their bargaining power over sanctions will improve dramatically. They want the bomb in order to make the US pull back in the region — at least as a first stage — and remove the threat of American force. If they’re this close, why not start to sweeten the air just a bit, and try one last time to separate the US from Iran’s enemies in Saudi Arabia?
That’s what Sen. Mark Kirk concludes from the new data:
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican whose Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation to tighten Iran sanctions, said the report shows that Iran is expanding its nuclear capabilities under the cover of negotiations.
“The Senate should move forward immediately with a new round of sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring an undetectable breakout capability,” he said.
But this may also be why Obama is making his diplomatic pitch now, too. If the Iranians are really on an irrevocable arc to nuclear-weapons capability, then it may make sense to try to reach an accommodation with Tehran over their newfound status. That’s what Iran wants, undoubtedly — to be the region’s fourth nuclear power (Israel, Pakistan, India are the others) and provide another pole for a nuclear Muslim axis that will force the West to retreat. Obama even argued during his 2007-8 campaign that the US lived with a nuclearized Soviet Union through the doctrine of mutually-assured destruction, and scoffed at the threat from “tiny” Iran (78 million people).
That assumes, though, that the Iranian mullahcracy will be rational actors. They’re not irrational, but their aims are non-rational — they want to re-establish a theocratic Caliphate with Tehran as its capital. That means they’re not going to be terribly concerned about proliferating nuclear weapons to their terrorist proxy networks, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, to use against infidels and Sunni “apostates” such as Saudi Arabia.
Small wonder the Saudis have become disenchanted with the US and are looking for better partners for security. They can’t afford to shrug at a nuclear fait accompli, and neither can Israel … or the West, either.