Iran bomb new.
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – It would take Iran just one year to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, top US military officials told Congress Wednesday.
They made the estimate based on Teheran’s current stockpiles of low enriched uranium and the time it would take to convert it to a weapons-grade form, if Iran made a decision to do so.
Additionally, they said, it generally takes a country three to five years to go from Iran’s level of low enrichment capability to producing the rest of the components necessary for a nuclear bomb, as well as the enriched uranium. They declined to offer a public assessment of precisely how long that part of the process would take the Islamic Republic.
The military officials, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Iran also continued to improve its conventional capabilities.
“Beyond the steady growth in its missile and rocket inventories, Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems by improving their accuracy and developing new sub-munition payloads,” said Lt.-Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who also pointed to Iranian advances in the technology supporting the construction of nuclear weapons and efforts to more heavily defend and bury nuclear facilities.
Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, highlighted Iranian efforts concerning the Straits of Hormuz, which is the conduit for much of the world’s energy supply.
“They are fortifying their capabilities to either reduce or deny access or constrict it,” he said, though he noted that they would cut off their own trade routes as well as others’. “But to have the physical capacity to attempt to do that, they are moving in that direction.”
Cartwright assessed that the US would be able to overcome those efforts, but that “it would be question of time and impact, and the implications from a global standpoint on the flow of energy, et cetera, would have ramifications probably beyond the military actions that would go on.”
Committee member Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) underscored testimony from the officers describing “how weak the conventional military of Iran is,” as well as the “overwhelming advantage in conventional warfare against Iran, including particularly with regard to air and naval capabilities.”
Though in response to questioning, Cartwright said the US had the capability to mount an operation to occupy Iran, Lieberman stressed that any US attack – not a preferred course of action – would be of a less invasive order.
“That’s not anything I’ve heard anybody really seriously talk about,” he said. “I think what anyone’s talking about is if it becomes necessary to use military force to stop the unacceptable, which is an Iranian nuclear program, is either covert action on the ground, limited, and/or strikes from the air.”
Lieberman also asked Cartwright, who answered in the affirmative, whether the threat of military force strengthened the impact of economic sanctions.
“The reason that we believe the sanctions and other measures short of military activity are important [is] because they give us more time, more decision time, more opportunities to intervene in ways” not requiring military force, he explained.
Michele Flournoy, defense undersecretary for policy, who also testified Tuesday, expressed concern at recent reports that Iran had upgraded its uranium enrichment capabilities.
“Any steps that Iran takes to go down the enrichment path are
worrisome,” she said, though she added, “The fact is, they have also
been having some technical problems with their program as well.”
Her boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, however, rejected the idea
that Iran would join the “nuclear club” in the next month, as an
Iranian official boasted this week.
Asked Tuesday if that were credible, he replied: “I don’t believe it.”