Iran likely has enough material to make a nuclear weapon, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told CNN’s John King Sunday.
“We think they do, quite frankly,” Mullen said on “State of The Union.” “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world,” he said. However, Tehran has denied pursuing nuclear weapons and insists the country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Mullen also said he is watching North Korea closely, although he added that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have yet to make a recommendation on how to approach that country. “There has been no recommendations one way or another,” he said. “There’s a lot of focus on this and then recommendations and certainly policy discussions will come based on the timing and what North Korea does.” Mullen’s comments on Iran came days after a Washington think tank said Iran had enough uranium for a bomb. The Institute for Science and International Security released a report in late February concluding that Iran has reached “nuclear weapons breakout capability.” The report was based on an analysis of data from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. However, an IAEA official who asked not to be named cautioned against drawing such dramatic conclusions from the data, saying Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium would have to be turned into highly enriched uranium to qualify as weapons-grade material. That hasn’t been done, the official said.
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Iran tested its first nuclear power plant on Wednesday at the Bushehr nuclear power plant using “dummy” fuel rods — so no nuclear reaction began. Officials said the next test will use enriched uranium, but it’s not clear when the test will be held or when the facility will be fully operational. The following day, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned that Washington continues to oppose Tehran’s nuclear goals. The United States “will seek to end Iran’s ambition to acquire an illicit nuclear capability and its support for terrorism,” Ambassador Susan Rice told the U.N. Security Council Thursday. Iran’s ambassador to the U.N., Mohammad Khazaee, defended his country’s nuclear program in response and challenged U.S. allegations. “It is unfortunate that, yet again, we are hearing the same tired, unwarranted and groundless allegations that used to be unjustifiably and futilely repeated by the previous U.S. administration,” Khazaee wrote in a letter to the chairman of the U.N. Security Council. Khazaee also called U.S. allegations against Iran on terrorism “equally baseless and absurd.” Earlier in February, President Obama said the United States is looking for opportunities for “face to face” dialogue with Iran, even though he has “deep concerns” about Tehran’s actions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by saying that his country welcomes talks with the United States “in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect.” President George W. Bush refused to meet with Iran’s president or engage in diplomatic dialogue with him. Bush labeled Iran a member of the “axis of evil” after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Meanwhile, Mullen suggested Sunday that he disagrees with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to move up the country’s elections and questioned whether Karzai has the authority to do so. “The elections were scheduled for August and that was a date that was set by the international elections commission and they are, as I understand it … the final authority in this,” Mullen told King. The comments came a day after Karzai decreed the presidential and provincial elections should take place in April, instead of the August date determined by the Independent Election Commission. Karzai, whose term ends in late May, said the constitution requires an election at least 30 days before the end of the term. But opposition groups are crying foul. Karzai has said he intends to run for a second term. But Mullen said the earlier date hampers his efforts to ensure the elections are secure. “I’m on a timeline to get security forces there to provide the kind of security for the elections,” he said. “So moving those dates to the left certainly generates a higher level of risk with respect to security for those elections, which we want to be free and fair as well as secure.”