In an alarming development, Ali-Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran's nuclear agency has implied in remarks broadcast on Monday that Iran has everything it needs for an A-bomb.
In a televised interview, Salehi, who was also foreign minister (2010-2013), was asked if Iran has achieved the capability of developing a nuclear bomb. Avoiding a direct answer he stated, "We have [crossed] all the thresholds of nuclear science and technology. Here's an example: Imagine what a car needs; it needs a chassis, an engine, a steering wheel, a gearbox. You're asking if we've made the gearbox, I say yes. Have we made the engine? Yes, but each one serves its own purpose," the senior regime insider said.
The likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons has been a prevalent concern for analysts and officials in the region and in Western countries, but recently the Islamic Republic has become more vocal about its military and nuclear progress. While Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, the regime has sped up its uranium enrichment to levels that serve no purpose other than building nuclear weapons.
The global community has been aware of Iran’s nuclear advancement, acknowledged in numerous reports by the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. However, except US sanctions, other countries and the United Nations have taken no effective measures.
This is not the first time that officials of the Islamic Republic have claimed to have the ability to build a nuclear bomb. In July 2022, Kamal Kharrazi, the head of the Strategic Council for Foreign Relations of the Islamic Republic and a close advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that Iran had the technical capabilities to build a nuclear bomb but does not intend to do so.
"We have increased the level of uranium enrichment from 20 percent to 60 percent in just a few days, and it can easily be enriched to 90 percent," Kharrazi said, implying that Iran is very close to making nuclear weapons.
His statement came as Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has never dismissed the possibility of enrichment to the level required for bomb-making, reiterating that the decision for 90 percent uranium enrichment depends on higher authorities, meaning Khamenei.
In January, a TV host in Iran suggested on an IRGC-affiliated channel that it is perhaps time to produce nuclear weapons, sparking controversy. The host, Hossein Hosseini, said, "Is it not time for Iran to produce its first nuclear weapon, given the ongoing conflict against Gaza and repeated threats from Israel?" Eslami, in response, said that “the production of weapons of mass destruction has never been part of Iran's defensive doctrine and is not aligned with its foreign policy," despite the country's ongoing enrichment effort.
Islamic Republic officials have repeatedly stated that according to a fatwa (Islamic decree) by the Supreme Leader, the construction of an atomic bomb is not on Tehran's agenda. However, few in the international community believe in a fatwa that can be revoked at any moment.
“You have a situation where the security incentives for Iran to build nuclear weapons have increased,” he pointed out. “The transparency of the nuclear program has decreased significantly.. Their nuclear weapons capabilities have grown over the last several years… And it's also a point in time where people's attention is elsewhere. The Iran nuclear issue barely makes the newspapers these days.” In the past two decades, every US president has announced that a “nuclear Iran” will not be tolerated, often stressing that “all options are on the table” to prevent the regime in Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons. And in the meantime, Iran has advanced its nuclear capabilities in every respect.
But Albright believes a “balancing act” is possible if the US and Israel move swiftly to make the regime understand “it's not in its interest to build nuclear weapons” before it reaches a definite conclusion that it has to have “nuclear deterrent” against the US and Israel.
“We're worried that the US and Israeli intelligence agencies are distracted,” Albright told Iran International, “and Israeli intelligence isn't foolproof, as this attack on October 7th proved in a very dramatic way.
According to Al Jazeera, “a confidential IAEA report released last month indicated that Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium had reached more than 22 times the limit" set out in the 2015 JCPOA accord between Tehran and world powers.
In June 2022, Iran removed all IAEA surveillance and monitoring equipment, needed to monitor the implementation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord from its nuclear installations and since March it agreed to put them back on operation, but it has been stonewalling the process ever since.
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in December that inspectors “confirmed…an increased production of highly enriched uranium at both of Iran’s main nuclear facilities.” Speaking to Bloomberg on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Grossi reiterated his concerns that no technical obstacle remains between Iran and a nuclear bomb, implying that the regime can make them now if it wanted to.
Condemning Iran's advancement, the US said the December 26, 2023 report by the IAEA highlighted that Iran has increased its rate of production of uranium enriched up to 60% at Natanz and Fordow to levels observed between January and June 2023. "These findings represent a backwards step by Iran and will result in Iran tripling its monthly production rate of uranium enriched up to 60%."