WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Iran could be weeks away from producing enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon if it continues to lift restraints installed by the 2015 nuclear deal.
Blinken noted that he has not yet seen the actual intelligence, but public reporting indicates Iran’s timeline is down to “a few months.” He cautioned, however, that “if Iran continues to lift some of these restraints imposed by the agreement, that could get down to a matter of weeks.”
Speaking with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell in his first television interview since taking office, Blinken repeated the Biden administration's policy of willingness to return to compliance with the deal if Iran does so first, then working with allies on achieving a "longer and stronger" agreement that addresses other long-standing issues, such as Iran's ballistic missile program and its regional activity.
Iran has resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, a level of purity that is not allowed under Tehran's 2015 nuclear pact with six major powers, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed earlier this month. In order to achieve a nuclear weapon, Iran would need to further enrich it up to 90 percent.
Until recently, Iran has been enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67 percent. Experts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium stockpiled for at least two nuclear weapons, if it chose to pursue them. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
Blinken also noted that the Biden administration is reviewing the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship to ensure it's consistent with U.S. interest, calling the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi "an outrageous act against a journalist and a U.S. resident" while declining to condemn Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Biden administration froze munitions sales to Saudi Arabia pending further review the day Blinken was confirmed as secretary of state. During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” broadly promising to confront the Kingdom on its human rights record and end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Blinken echoed that promise in his confirmation hearing, calling Yemen "the worst humanitarian situation in the world."
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"We have real concerns [about] the policies that our Saudi partners have pursued and, accordingly, the president-elect has said we will review the entirety of the relationship to make sure that, as it stands, it is advancing the interests [and is] respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership," Blinken said.