And last week, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who specializes in nuclear matters, told our House Armed Services Committee that Iran could produce bomb-grade fuel for at least one nuclear weapon within a year, although creating a working atomic bomb would likely take closer to two to five years.
Of course, all these timelines are estimates, and not precise. These events could occur earlier, or take longer. But clearly, the Pentagon, the White House and our U.S. intelligence agencies must develop strategies to address nuclear proliferation by rogue actors when diplomacy and sanctions fail. We must address how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported.
In March, I made my second visit to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Along with Senators Kyl of Arizona and Casey of Pennsylvania, I was able to spend a day receiving overviews of the IAEA’s work in Iran. I was briefed by the Director General of the IAEA, which works with its member states and other global partners to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies.
The IAEA is the world’s nuclear inspectorate, with more than four decades of verification experience. Inspectors work to verify that safeguarded nuclear material and activities are not used for military purposes. Its work is, therefore, critically important to the United States’ long-term national security.
The IAEA inspects nuclear and related facilities under safeguard agreements with more than 145 nations around the world. Most agreements are with countries that have committed not to possess nuclear weapons pursuant to the global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), for which the IAEA is the verification authority.
As the “world’s center of cooperation in the nuclear field,” the IAEA has more than two thousand staff stationed around the world, including several inspectors in Iran. It was their work that led to revelations Iran has at least 3 nuclear enrichment facilities, and it maintains active monitoring of the nuclear capability of Syria and North Korea, as well. We learned from the IAEA in September that Iran was building a new uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain near the town of Qum.
The threat from Iran is not one where we can wait until the U.S. is faced with a nuclear weapon. The administration has said that a nuclear Iran is not acceptable. Now the administration must tell the American people how it intends to address this growing threat.