WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the United States and others time to try to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected atomic arms programme, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday.
“They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time,” Gates said on NBC television’s “Meet The Press.”
Gates’ comments followed a televised interview with Adm. Mike Mullen, head of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he believed Iran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb.
“We think they do, quite frankly,” Mullen said.
Mullen had been asked about a watchdog report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month that said Iran had built up a stockpile of low-enriched uranium. The reported stockpile of 1,010 kg would be enough — if converted into highly-enriched uranium — to make a bomb, analysts have said.
The United States suspects Iran of trying to use its nuclear programme to build an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists it is purely for the peaceful generation of electricity.
Gates said there has been “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons programme” in the Obama and Bush administrations.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration favours diplomatic engagement with Tehran to defuse the dispute over its nuclear intentions, but has called Iran’s nuclear programme an “urgent problem” the international community must address.