CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday Iran would need two years to prepare two launch-read nuclear weapons, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, June 25).
"We think they have enough low-enriched uranium for two weapons," Panetta told ABC News.
Tehran would require one year to enrich the material to weapon-grade levels and "another year to develop the kind of weapon delivery system in order to make that viable," he said.
The U.N. Security Council, European Union and U.S. Congress have all recently issued new sanctions in hopes of persuading Iran to suspend activities suspected of being aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear effort has no military aspect.
"There is a continuing debate right now about whether or not they ought to proceed with a bomb. But they clearly are developing their nuclear capability and that raises concerns," Panetta said. "Just exactly what are their intentions?"
He added: "We continue to urge them to engage in peaceful use of nuclear power. If they did that, they wouldn't have these concerns, they wouldn't have these problems. The international community would be working with them instead of having them work on their own" (Agence France-Presse I/Spacedaily.com, June 27).
Panetta played down the likelihood that Iran could be convinced by sanctions to curb its atomic operations, the Washington Times reported.
"Will it deter them [Iran] from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not," he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern over Panetta's time line for Iran's nuclear work.
"Such information is always alarming, because today the international community does not recognize the Iranian nuclear program as transparent," Medvedev said in Canada, where he attended summits of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 nations (see related GSN story, today). "If it is shown that what the American special services say is true, then it will of course make the situation more tense, and I do not exclude" considering further economic penalties against Iran (Washington Times, June 27).
"As to this information -- it needs to be checked," Medvedev added (Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters, June 27).
Iran, though, today dismissed the CIA chief's assertions, AFP reported.
"Such remarks fall within the framework of psychological warfare aimed at creating a negative perception about Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state media.
"The American officials, especially their intelligence apparatus, know that Iran's nuclear program is in no way a military one but is aimed at peaceful purposes," he said (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, June 28).
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his government would not conduct further nuclear talks with other nations for two months, according to AFP.
"The negotiations (would likely occur) at the end of (the Iranian month of) Mordad," roughly late August, Ahmadinejad told reporters.
"We are postponing the talks because of the bad behavior and the adoption of the new resolution in the (U.N.) Security Council," he added. "This is a penalty, so that they (the world powers) are disciplined to learn the way of talking to other nations."
Talks must involve an expanded group of nations beyond global powers China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Ahmadinejad said without identifying particular nations.
Negotiating states must make it clear what they hope to gain from the talks and must clearly express their position on nuclear weapons possessed by Israel, he said. Jerusalem does not formally acknowledge or deny the existence of its widely presumed nuclear arsenal.
Ahmadinejad also held out hope that world powers would accept the uranium exchange deal it signed with Brazil and Turkey and took aim at Panetta's statements.
"What good is an atom bomb to anyone? The stupidest thing today is accumulating atomic weapons," he said. "They seek accomplices in the crime and Iran will not be an accomplice in their crime. We are standing firm on disarmament" (Agence France-Presse III/Spacewar.com, June 28).
Meanwhile, the Obama administration lauded the new package of Iran sanctions passed last week by Congress, the State Department stated.
The legislation would penalize any company around the world that ships gasoline or other refined petroleum products to Iran and includes provisions to prevent Iran from illicitly acquiring sensitive technology, among other measures.
"These new measures, along with action by the European Union and Australia, build on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 and underscore the resolve of the international community to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to hold it accountable for its international obligations," according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "The United States will work with our partners to maximize the impact of these efforts and to continue pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program" (U.S. State Department release, June 25).
There is concern in Washington that China, which generally questions sanctions and has growing energy needs, would increase its commerce with Iran even as other nations step away in accordance with the various sanctions agreements, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"There's a track record of China not cooperating with the mechanisms set up to implement the international sanctions," said Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In the case of unilateral sanctions by the United States, cooperation is likely to be even less."
Nonetheless, the Obama administration indicated it would not back down from ensuring that sanctions rules are followed (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, June 28).
The United Arab Emirates' central bank is freezing 41 bank accounts in accordance with the latest Security Council sanctions, AFP reported. The action is being taken in accordance with the resolution "regarding nonproliferation of nuclear weapons," according to a document submitted to banks and other financial entities (Agence France-Presse IV/Yahoo!News, June 28).