It could “only be a matter of weeks” before Iran is capable of enriching uranium to 90 percent purity, at which point the country could manufacture nuclear weapons, according to CIA Director William Burns.
“To the best of our knowledge, we don’t believe that the supreme leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge that they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003,” the CIA chief said in a Feb. 26 interview with CBS. “But the other two legs of the stool, meaning enrichment programs, they’ve obviously advanced very far, you know, over the past couple of years.”
Even though Burns said he does not see any evidence that Iran has decided to resume its weaponization program, he sees “other dimensions of this challenge” growing at a “worrisome pace.” The Iranians are “still a ways off” when it comes to their ability to develop a nuclear weapon, he added.
Iran and Nuclear Material
According to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, Iran had originally committed to restricting enriching uranium to a purity level of 3.67 percent in exchange for lifting economic sanctions imposed by global powers. At 3.67 percent purity, the uranium could be used for powering nuclear plants. The deal was negotiated under the Obama administration.
In 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal and reimposed tight sanctions on Iran. Trump called the JCPOA a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never been made.” Trump had earlier warned that the deal would be scrapped if Iran would not accept certain demands, including the cessation of its ballistic missile program.
A Feb. 19 report by Bloomberg suggested that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, detected Iran as having enriched uranium to 84 percent purity, close enough to the 90 percent level seen as weapons-grade.
“The IAEA is aware of recent media reports relating to uranium enrichment levels in Iran. Director General @rafaelmgrossi states that the IAEA is discussing with Iran the results of recent Agency verification activities and will inform the IAEA Board of Governors as appropriate,” the agency said in a Feb. 20 Twitter post.
Since 2021, Washington has initiated talks to bring Iran back into the deal. However, negotiations have not progressed, and the Biden administration has admitted that diplomacy between the two nations is in gridlock.
In the CBS interview, Burns expressed concerns about the strengthening relationship between Tehran and Moscow, noting that the alliance is “moving at a pretty fast clip in a very dangerous direction right now.”
Iran has already provided Russia with hundreds of armed drones that have been used in Moscow’s war against Ukraine. In addition, Tehran has also given ammunition for artillery and tanks.
“And what we also see are signs that, you know, Russia is proposing to help the Iranians on their missile program and also at least considering the possibility of providing fighter aircraft to Iran as well,” Burns said.
“That creates obvious risks not only for the people of Ukraine, and we’ve seen the evidence of that already, but also risks to our friends and partners across the Middle East as well. So it’s a, you know, quite disturbing set of developments.”
During a Feb. 24 call with reporters, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby stated that Iran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is “expanding.” The two countries are also seeking to exchange high-tech capabilities, he added.