Iran could produce enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more nuclear bombs by mid-2014, and the United States and its allies should intensify sanctions on Tehran before that point is reached, a report by a group of US nonproliferation experts said.
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The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has expressed concern that Iran's nuclear program has a military dimension. Tehran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, calls those allegations baseless.
The 154-page report, "US Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East," produced by five nonproliferation experts, was expected to be released on Monday.
"Based on the current trajectory of Iran's nuclear program, we estimate that Iran could reach critical capability in mid-2014," the report said.
It defined "critical capability" as the point when Iran would be able to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more bombs without detection by the West.
By mid-2014, Iran would have enough time to build a secret uranium-enrichment site or significantly increase the number of centrifuges for its nuclear program, said David Albright, one of the project's co-chairs and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
"We don't think there is any secret enrichment plant making significant secret uranium enrichment right now," he told Reuters. But there is "real worry" that Iran would build such a plant, he said.
The report recommends that the United States and its allies intensify sanctions pressure on Iran prior to that point because once Tehran acquires enough weapon-grade enriched uranium it would be "far more difficult to stop the program militarily."
The report recommends that the US government should announce its intention to use sanctions to impose a "de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran" if Tehran does not comply with UN Security Council resolutions.
It also recommends sending a "crystal clear" message to Iran's leaders that US military action would prevent them from succeeding in the pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
"The president should explicitly declare that he will use military force to destroy Iran's nuclear program if Iran takes additional decisive steps toward producing a bomb," the report said.
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