Iran 'Weaponizing Uranium Enrichment Without Making a Weapon,' Former Top UN Watchdog Official Says

Israel not the only country that should worry about a nuclear Iran, ex-IAEA deputy chief says in Tel Aviv, while Trump warns 'there's always chance' of armed conflict

On Iran's state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran, June 6, 2018.
,AP

Iran is "weaponizing uranium enrichment without making a weapon," former senior UN nuclear watchdog official said Wednesday, amid growing disagreement between Washington and Tehran over the latter's nuclear program.

Former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Olli Heinonen, said in an interview with Israel's Army Radio that according to his rough estimations, Iran could have weapons-grade enriched uranium in "perhaps half a year, seven to eight months maximum, if they put everything into it."

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Heinonen, who is in Tel Aviv for the International Defense, HLS and Cyber Expo, said that Israel is not the only country that needs to prepare for this reality. "It's also a question of the people in the Gulf area. [They're] worried, Saudi Arabia is worried, and they have a reason to worry." With a nuclear Iran, he said, even if they do not complete the entire process, "How do you guarantee your own security?"

He also touched upon the United States' withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and new sanctions on Iran. "I think [Iran] felt comfortable. They had the enrichment technology, they can build more centrifuges, but they are also able to absorb a lot of sanctions."   

In May, Iran announced that they would be scaling back their commitments to the Iran nuclear pact, to the international community's concern. In response, the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran. As regional tensions rose, particularly between Iran and its foe Saudi Arabia in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, the United States has been edging towards confrontation with Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump told British television station ITV Wednesday that he would prefer to talk to Iranian President Hassan Rohani than engage in a military confrontation. "There's always a chance" of armed conflict, Trump said. "Do I want to? No. I'd rather not. But there's always a chance." 

He called Iran "extremely hostile when I first came into office," and "terrorist nation number one in the world at that time, and probably maybe are today." But when asked if he would be prepared to talk to his Iranian counterpart, he said "Yeah, of course. I would much rather talk."

Reuters contributed to this report.