Head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, claims that Iran is likely to achieve nuclear weapons capability within two years, increasig prospects of a possible strike against the Islamic republic either by the U.S. or Israel, a British newspaper reported on Friday.
John Sawers disclosed his assessment last week to a gathering of around 100 high-ranking civil servants, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The newspaper said that it was Sir John’s first publicly reported assessment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions since his appointment as head of MI6 in 2009.
“The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need,” he said. “It’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state.”
He said Iran is only “two years away” from becoming a “a nuclear weapons state.”
Western officials and Israel suspect that Iran is enriching uranium to build a nuclear weapon under the cover of a civilian energy program.
The same facilities used for peaceful enrichment can serve to build a bomb.
Evidence on whether Iran has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, however, is debatable.
American intelligence agencies cited a 2007 assessment stating that Iran has suspended research on nuclear weapons technology in 2003 and had not decided to take the final steps needed to build a bomb.
But Britain and Israel analyzed the data differently to mean that Tehran had made a decision to move to a nuclear weapons capability.
The MI6 head said that it is up to Britain to “delay that awful moment when the politicians may have to take a decision between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or launching a military strike against Iran.”
“I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Without previous efforts by British intelligence, he was quoted as saying, “you’d have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012.” He did not elaborate.
U.S. charges Iranian, Chinese nationals
In related news, the United States on Friday announced charges against an Iranian citizen and Chinese resident for allegedly trying to export nuclear-related material to help Tehran enrich uranium.
One of the men, Iranian citizen Parviz Khaki, was also accused of conspiring to send radioactive material from the United States to customers in Iran, according to an indictment by a federal grand jury in Washington.
Khaki, 43, was arrested in May in the Philippines on request of the United States while the Chinese resident, Yi Zongcheng, remains at large. The two men both face decades in prison if convicted.
The Justice Department alleged that Khaki and Yi sought to obtain and export materials including maraging steel, aluminum alloys, mass spectrometers and vacuum pumps used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.
“Today’s indictment sheds light on the reach of Iran’s illegal procurement networks and the importance of keeping US nuclear-related materials from being exploited by Iran,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said in a statement.
“Iranian procurement networks continue to target U.S. and Western companies for technology acquisition by using fraud, front companies and middlemen in nations around the globe,” she said.
Iran, which has faced punishing Western sanctions, insists that its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.