London, Dec. 05 â€“ The chief of the United Nationsâ€™ nuclear watchdog warned on Monday that Iran could develop nuclear weapons within â€œa few monthsâ€ of starting uranium enrichment in its massive underground nuclear facility in Natanz, central Iran.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the United Kingdomâ€™s Independent that both Iran and the West had to refrain from escalating their dangerous game of brinkmanship, in the international standoff over Tehranâ€™s suspected nuclear weapons program.
The EU-3 â€“ Britain, France, and Germany â€“ who had led talks with Tehran, initially halted negotiations on the grounds that Iran unilaterally breached an agreement to suspend nuclear enrichment activities, by resuming uranium conversion in a plant in Isfahan. They have since backtracked on their threat of referring Tehranâ€™s nuclear file to the UN Security Council and instead offered to meet with Iranian officials in the hopes that Tehran will abandon the nuclear fuel cycle on its own soil, an act outright rejected by Iranâ€™s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in an interview with the French news agency AFP on Sunday.
ElBaradei warned that if Iran carries out a threat to reopen Natanz a dangerous escalation will ensue, and raise fresh questions about Iran’s insistence that its nuclear intentions are peaceful.
â€œIf they start enriching this is a major issue and a serious concern for the international communityâ€, he said, adding that the concern was â€œbecause lots of people feel it could be a dual purpose programâ€.
ElBaradei said that once the Natanz facility was up and running, the Iranians could be "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon. IAEA officials have previously asserted that Natanz would become fully operational two years from now.
â€œI know they are trying to acquire the full fuel cycle. I know that acquiring the full fuel cycle means that a country is months away from nuclear weapons, and that applies to Iran and everybody elseâ€, he told the British paper.