In Iran Talks, the Core Question Is Open: Can Iran Build a Bomb?

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Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz. Two New York Times reporters say that Iran has declined to specify how much it knows about building a bomb, and the nations negotiating an accord are unsure whether and how much to press the matter.Credit: AP

In the dozen years that the United Nations has been inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities, its staff has unearthed many details but has been unable to answer the core question of whether the Islamic Republic can build a nuclear weapon, the New York Times reports.

A deadline for a frame accord in the talks on Iran's nuclear program is later this month, and the six world powers doing the negotiating are unsure whether to pressure Iran to tell everything it knows about atomic matters, New York Times correspondents William J. Broad and David E. Sanger have written.

Up to now the talks have focused on restricting Iran's uranium plants and plutonium complex, according to the Times; that is, its ability to create nuclear fuel.

Officials are particularly concerned about the period before 2003, when Iran was conducting what negotiators say was a local version of the Manhattan Project, the U.S.-led World War II R&D effort that developed the first atomic bomb, the reporters say.

Iran has dodged most inquiries into what it knows about bomb design, and its negotiators have ridiculed as fake a vast amount of information, assembled by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, indicating that Iran is skilled in such design.

So the question for the world-power negotiators is whether to try to force Iran to put all its cards on the table, at the possible cost of the Iranian nuclear talks collapsing with no agreement in place, Broad and Sanger say.

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