Israel: Iran may be 6 months from bomb know-how
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iran may be as little as six months away from completing the know-how to build a nuclear bomb, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Monday.
"The question is not if they are going to hold that bomb in 2009 or 2010 or 2011, the question is when they will have the full knowledge," Shalom told a meeting of U.S. Jewish community leaders in New York.
"According to our people, security and intelligence, they are very, very close. It may be only six months before they will have that full knowledge."
The authoritative, independent International Institute for Strategic Studies said this month Tehran is at least five years away from producing enough fissile material for a single bomb, and that 15 years was a more likely time frame.
Shalom did not say when he expected Iran to have the material to make a bomb.
He was speaking as the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, was meeting in Vienna to consider whether to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions over its secretive nuclear program.
Iran insists its nuclear program is purely civilian to make electricity. The United States and Europe suspect Tehran of seeking a weapons capability.
Israel is widely assumed to have a sizable arsenal of nuclear weapons, although it does not publicly acknowledge that and maintains a policy of ambiguity.
Shalom warned that if the IAEA hesitated in reporting Iran to the Security Council, it would be very difficult to do so in future, and it might be too late as the Iranians were pushing ahead with their nuclear research.
"They have some technical problems recently," Shalom said, but he added that they were continuing with experiments to complete their research. He declined to give further details or discuss the source of his information.
"That's all the information that I can give," he told Reuters. "That's our assessment, that the Iranians are very close and it might be only six months before they will have the full knowledge to develop this nuclear bomb."
Shalom thanked John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who also addressed the meeting of American Jewish community leaders, saying Bolton had made every effort to protect the security of Israel as well as the United States.
Bolton said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "one of the two or three gravest threats" to international security.
Shalom, who met his Tunisian counterpart earlier at the United Nations, told the meeting he was determined to pursue a twin strategy of improving relations with moderate Muslim countries while doing everything possible to weaken "extremists" such as Iran and Syria.
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