Sunday June 04, 2023

Iran nuclear programme progressing at worrisome pace: CIA chief

February 27, 2023

WASHINGTON: Iran’s nuclear programme is advancing at a “worrisome pace,” CIA director William Burns said in an interview broadcast Sunday, following reports Tehran had further enriched uranium.

Iran was last known to have enriched uranium up to 60 percent purity, but a recent Bloomberg News report that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors found uranium enriched to 84 percent, while strongly denied by Tehran, has sparked consternation. Uranium enriched to around 90 percent purity is considered nuclear weapons-grade.Iran has “advanced very far to the point where it would only be a matter of weeks before they can enrich to 90 percent, if they chose to cross that line,” Burns told CBS´s “Face the Nation,” calling the progress “quite troubling.”

He added, however, that the United States did not believe that Iran´s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had decided to “resume the weaponization programme that we judge that they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003.” Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it is not planning to build a nuclear bomb. A multi-nation 2015 accord promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for cutting back its nuclear program.But Iran started stepping up its nuclear activities in 2019, a year after the United States under then-president Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark deal and reinstated sanctions. Negotiations to revive the accord have stalled.

Burns said Iran was “still a ways off... in terms of their ability to actually develop a weapon” but said advancements in enrichment and missile systems that would be able deliver a nuclear weapon are “growing at a worrisome pace.” Another point of concern is that Russia is proposing to help Iran´s missile program, Burns noted, reiterating as well the US belief that Moscow is also considering sending fighter jets to Iran.

Russia and Iran have expanded their military cooperation, with Tehran shipping growing quantities of weaponry to Moscow for use in the invasion of Ukraine. The two states´ cooperation is “moving at a pretty fast clip in a very dangerous direction,” Burns said.”That creates obvious risks not only for the people of Ukraine -- and we´ve seen the evidence of that already -- but also risks to our friends and partners across the Middle East as well.”

The CIA director also said the United States is “confident” that China is considering providing lethal equipment to support the Russian forces invading Ukraine, according to. Such a step by China would be “a very risky and unwise bet,” the intelligence chief said. “I hope very much that they don´t.” His comments, along with others Sunday by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, constituted the latest blunt US warning to China to stop short of providing lethal weaponry to Russia.

But both Burns and Sullivan made clear that the United States has yet to detect signs that any weaponry has been shipped. “We actually haven´t seen them take a final decision... and we haven´t seen the aid be provided to Russia,” Sullivan said on CNN´s “State of the Union.”

“So we will watch carefully, we will be vigilant.” China is considering sending drones and munitions to Russia, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Such a move, which China has denied, could have a major impact on the year-old conflict.