Ex-UN Watchdog: Iran 2-3 Weeks From Nuclear Bomb

Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director general, responds to Iranian claim it could resume uranium enrichment in a day's time.

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One day before Iran began implementing its nuclear deal with world powers, a former United Nations watchdog said the Islamic Republic would only be two to three weeks away from a nuclear weapon if the agreement were broken.

Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, appeared on a Sunday radio show, where he discussed recent remarks from Iran's top nuclear negotiator.

Abbas Araghchi said last week that Iran could resume enriching uranium to levels prohibited by the nuclear deal in one day’s time.

Heinonen told Aaron Klein’s WABC Radio show that it would take Iran “two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon,” according to WorldNetDaily (WND), a conservative American news site.

“If [Iran] in reality [breaks the deal] tomorrow, they still have quite a substantial stock of uranium hexafluoride, which is enriched to 20 percent," Heinonen was quoted as saying. "So if this all happens in the next, let’s say, weeks, this is really true. They can start to produce 20-percent enriched uranium…. They have to put perhaps some 6,000 centrifuges to work in this kind of a mode.

"If they do that, which they can technically do, it will take certainly a little bit more than one night to do. But then once they have sorted it out, it would take about two, three weeks to have enough uranium hexafluoride high-enriched for one single weapon," Heinonen told the radio show.

Heinonen last year discussed the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the West with Der Spiegel, saying it was a step forward, but "no reason to celebrate."

"The interim agreement is not perfect, but at this stage, using a Chinese proverb: It is better to have a raw diamond than a perfectly polished pebble," he told the German newspaper.

The interim nuclear deal got underway on Monday, when Iran halted its most sensitive nuclear activity, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions.

The mutual concessions are scheduled to last six months, during which time six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - aim to negotiate a final accord defining the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear activity.

Former deputy director general of the IAEA Olli Heinonen at a press conference with a top Iranian nuclear negotiator in Tehran in August, 2007.Credit: AP

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