The United States has persuaded Israel that Iran would take one year or longer to build a nuclear weapon, dimming the prospects of a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, The New York Times said.
"We think that they have roughly a year dash time," US President Barack Obama's top advisor on nuclear issues Gary Samore was quoted as saying in a report published by the daily on its website late Thursday. "A year is a very long period of time."
By "dash time," the official referred to the shortest time Iran would take to build a nuclear weapon, judging from its existing facilities and capacity to convert stocks of low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material, a process known as "breakout."
Samore said the United States believes international inspectors would detect any Iranian move toward "breakout" within weeks, leaving the US and Israel ample time to craft a response.
Israel has hinted in the past that it would likely attack Iranian nuclear facilities should the Islamic republic try to build an atomic bomb, a development that the Jewish state says would be a mortal threat to its existence.
Israel believes Iran is only months away from such a scenario, while the US intelligence thinks it would take longer.
Only enough materials for 2 weapons
Based on intelligence collected over the past year, the new US assessment is not clear on what problems Iran's uranium enrichment program – which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes – is confronting.
The daily said the lag could be due to poor centrifuge design, difficulty in obtaining components or accelerated Western efforts to sabotage the nuclear program.
American and Israeli officials believe that Iran has only enough nuclear materials for two weapons. And to build those two would require the country to kick out international inspectors, which would make it clear what its intentions were.
It would also take some time for Iran to convert its nuclear facilities to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Iran has added relatively few centrifuges — machines that enrich uranium — this year, and only about half of those are working, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Either they don't have the machines, or they have real questions about their technical competence," Samore told the Times.
Israeli officials remain suspicious that Iran has a secret enrichment site.
AFP and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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