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Iran may have been closer to building a bomb than US intelligence realized

A new report suggests that Iran was much closer to developing a nuclear weapon than U.S. intelligence had thought. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks on Sept. 26, 2018, during a news conference in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran may have been much closer to developing a nuclear weapon than U.S. intelligence initially assumed. According to files obtained by Israeli intelligence earlier this year, if Iran restarts its centrifuges, it could have a bomb in a matter of months.

Here's what we know

During a speech in April announcing the seizure of tens of thousands of files worth of information from Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran had lied about not having a nuclear weapons program. He also said that Iran had been preserving and expanding its nuclear weapons program even after it signed the Iran nuclear deal.

On Monday, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog said that Iran was keeping up its end of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and had not expanded its program beyond the parameters set by that deal.

David Albright, a physicist who runs the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security, told Foreign Policy that Iran could have enough weapons-grade uranium in seven to 12 months if it restarts its centrifuges.

Even more startling, at the time the Iran deal was signed in 2015 the Iranians were even closer to finishing a bomb — only two months out. It would take a few months longer now than it would have then because under the terms of the deal Iran had to give up most of its nuclear fuel and get rid of the centrifuges needed to refine it.

At the time the deal was signed, the U.S. government either did not know or did not reveal that Iran had been this close to attaining a nuclear weapon.

Albright pointed to the Israeli archive as proof that for years the U.S. and other Western intelligence operations had been consistently underestimating how far Iran was in developing a nuclear weapon of its own. Albright has personally gone to Tel Aviv and reviewed the documents obtained by the Israelis.

What about the Iran nuclear deal?

In 2015, the Obama administration signed a deal with Iran. Under the terms of the arrangement, Iran would give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in return for the lifting of sanctions. Opponents of the deal argued that there weren't enough safeguards in place to ensure that Iran held up its end of the deal.

In May, Trump  announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. He had called this deal an “embarrassment” to himself and all U.S. citizens.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that it would be reimposing all the sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the Obama administration. This was the 19th round of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Iran.

Other signatories of the deal — Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China — have tried to continue to uphold it, even after the U.S. pulled out.

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