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Top US general says ‘multiple options’ ready if Iran develops nuclear weapon

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks.
US General Mark Alexander Milley, 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Feb. 14, 2023.

WASHINGTON —The US military has “multiple options” if Iran decides to develop a nuclear weapon, the Pentagon’s top general told lawmakers Thursday. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told a House Appropriations Committee hearing that Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks, after which it would take several more months to develop a nuclear weapon. 

Other US officials have offered similar estimates on Iran’s so-called breakout time to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb, which was around one year when the 2015 nuclear deal was in effect. 

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said last month that it would take Iran “about 12 days” to amass “one bomb's worth of fissile material.”

"The United States remains committed as a matter of policy that Iran will not have a fielded nuclear weapon," Milley told lawmakers.  

“We, the United States military, have developed multiple options for our national leadership to consider if or when Iran ever decides to develop an actual nuclear weapon,” he said. 

Iran maintains that its nuclear program exists for peaceful purposes only. 

The Biden administration has shifted its focus away from reviving the nuclear deal, citing Iran’s continued crackdown on protesters and its continued supply of armed drones to Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral pact offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activity. Tehran began violating its JCPOA obligations after former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions. 

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month that its inspectors had detected particles of uranium enriched to 83.7% purity at Iran’s underground Fordow site. Weapons-grade level is considered 90%. Iran has openly been enriching uranium to 60% purity in breach of the landmark nuclear deal that President Joe Biden came into office hoping to restore. 

Earlier this month, Iran agreed to boost inspector access and restore monitoring equipment at its nuclear sites as well as increase inspections by 50% at the Fordow facility. During his visit to Washington last week, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said he expected Iran to follow through on its commitments.   

On Thursday, Iran's military forces concluded naval drills jointly conducted with China and Russia in the Gulf of Oman that were seen as a major show of military might to its Western foes. According to China's CCTV, the drills included live-fire suppression and strike practice with nighttime communication exercises. 

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