"Iran is now either very near, or in possession already, of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade," Mr. Davies said in a meeting with IAEA's board.
Expressing US concerns is part of Davies job. But if you read the New York Times story today (and others), you might have been led to believe that he was saying something new. He wasn't.
"American intelligence agencies have concluded in recent months that Iran has created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon,'' the Times reported on its front page Thursday. "In the first public acknowledgment of the intelligence findings (Davies) declared on Wednesday that Iran now had what he called a “possible breakout capacity” if it decided to enrich its stockpile of uranium."
Davies' comments were more direct than past American statements on the matter, perhaps indicating US frustration. But their substance reflected a seven-month old consensus among Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA itself that, yes indeed, Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to produce one bomb if, in theory, it enriched it to weapons grade.
Those conclusions were drawn after the February 19 release of this IAEA report on the state of Iran's nuclear program, which revealed it had far more low-enriched uranium than previously assumed.
This was widely reported on the day of the reports release, including by the Times, which wrote that IAEA "officials also declared for the first time that the amount of uranium that Tehran had now amassed — more than a ton — was sufficient, with added purification, to make an atom bomb."
The US also publicly acknowledged the IAEA report at the time. "Iran has a stockpile of over 1,010 kilograms of low enriched uranium as of 19 February," the State Department said in a February 19 statement. About 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of low enriched uranium is considered to be the minimum starting point to produce enough fuel for one bomb.
To be sure, that Iran has drawn closer to the ability to make a bomb isn't any less alarming today than it was seven months ago. But a necessary prelude to enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels would be an Iranian closure of the IAEA's monitoring programs, and that's something that hasn't happened yet, as Mr. Davies pointed out.
And as we reported in a backgrounder on Iran's nuclear program in June, expert consensus is that Iran is six to seven years away from being able to produce a bomb that could be delivered with a missile. While the fear of Iranian intentions that Davies expressed still holds, so does this assessment from a May report by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "There is no sign that Iran's leaders have ordered up a bomb."
Why the excitement over seven-month old information?
With Iranian leaders continuing to insist that placing more safeguards on or dismantling their nuclear program is "off the table" – and the Obama administration considering new sanctions for the Islamic Republic – it appears that Washington, with the help of the media – is intent on increasing the pressure on Iran.