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Obama Administration Says Iran Still Three to Five Years From Usable Nuclear Weapon

by Greg on April 14, 2010

A revealing exchange at today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran’s nuclear program that featured some of the Obama administration’s defense policy heavy hitters. Things got interesting when director of military intelligence, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, said Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in one year.

This led a number of SASC committee members to assume that Iran could have a nuclear bomb in one year, which is not the case. He was referring only to uranium enrichment. Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin, asked for further clarification: If Iran made the decision today to develop a nuclear bomb, how long would it take them to do so?

To produce enough highly enriched uranium would take Iran one year, said vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. James Cartwright. To develop a “deliverable weapon that is usable tactically… something that can actually create a detonation, an explosion that would be considered a nuclear weapon” would take “another two to three, potentially out to five years.”

Sen. John McCain said he was somewhat astonished as every report he’s seen said a year to 18 months. To clarify, and Levin specifically asked what the intelligence community’s best assessment was, if Iran decided to simultaneously enrich uranium and develop a deliverable nuclear weapon, how long would it take?

“Three to five years is a historical estimate of how long it takes a nation with a low enriching capability to move both through the high enrichment protocols and then to things that would put it together to make it a weapon. Three to five years,” Cartwright said.

– Greg

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

C Gershbaum April 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Are you buying this?. We know that Iran has put a satellite into orbit, and has at lease some missiles (ballistic or not) Do you think it will take them 3-5 years to put together a delivery system. Am I missing something.


mike j April 14, 2010 at 6:06 pm

"Am I missing something."

-Yes. Making a deliverable weapon is not the same as having weapons-grade material, or building a device.

On the other hand, I'm not sure why these people seem to be wetting their pants over a missile, when the Iranians could just load it on a cargo plane or a ship. Presumably, planes and ships are easier to stop than a missile, but given how the world really works, don't bet on it.

What I take away from this: We need better intelligence on Iran.


Neil December 19, 2010 at 7:56 am

-"Yes. Making a deliverable weapon is not the same as having weapons-grade material, or building a device"

I thought Iran were 'caught' with the bluepronts they'd bought that showed how to make a deliverable warhead…. least i'm pretty sure they were anyway.


W Lindsey April 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm

no thats not what they said , they said it will take them between 3 and 5 years to not only enrich the LE uranium to HE uranium , but also to develop a `bomb` that can actually be used – look at the ivy mike shot , yes it was the first `real` test of a hydrogen device , but being the size of a small building , tactically was useless – it took another 2 years for Castle Bravo to prove that the ulam-teller device could be used militarily.


Maxtrue April 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm

And I suppose this information is lost on Iranian scientists as well as the stuff from Khan and NK.


Blight April 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm

If Iran can smuggle weapons to Hezbollah or into Iraq (or Afghanistan), then it's game over for whatever American gets killed. It's not like a terrorist has to strike a civilian target to win. Can you imagine the "get the troops home" people using a mushroom cloud as part of their protest banners?

Though if Iran really wanted to; they could've helped with dirty bombs by now. So maybe they're not all too bad; or they don't want to start throwing down dirty bombs or real nukes in legitimate fear of mutually assured destruction.


Chuck April 14, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Max – who cares what Israel's reasons are for obtaining nukes. They have them and so started the middle east nuke arms race. Simple. Now the other countries near Israel have every right to get nukes themselves. Until Israel, the US, Russia, ect get rid of all their nukes they have no right to tell other countries what they can and can't have. Just because you live in a country with nukes doesn't give you the right to dictate anything to them. Btw, Israel hasn't even signed the non proliferation treaty. I guess they don't care then….


Sev April 15, 2010 at 12:42 am


Israel is constantly threatened by Iran and every other country around it. Thats why they have (or do not have) nukes.


Mart April 15, 2010 at 9:06 am

I dont see Israeli people and leaders spewing lies about the west and calling for its destruction. As a free human being I have nothing to fear from Israel having nukes. A nation like Iran having nukes with which to bully other nations is not a good prospect unless youre a moslem who thinks that waging war for allah is a saintly thing.


Brandon April 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Another point we can say because we can stop them from having them (presses red button)


Maxtrue April 14, 2010 at 5:46 pm

No you are not….


John moore April 14, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I guess thats his way of flipping it off to the next president.

Or was it china that said no to sanctions so he has to back pedal as not to look like the fool he has become.

I thaught he might be decent but nope.


Infantry Blue April 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

The right comes and goes when you declare an intent to wipe another peaceable nation off the map, or slaughter several million innocent people in your own backyard. Simple solution, we should engage and destroy the Iranian and DPRK governments through military force. I will raise my hand to be the first to step across the border, even if I have to die for their freedom.


jacksonpolitic April 15, 2010 at 7:16 am

u dont know iran and iranain ppl , we r calm ppl. we dont have any attack to other country, but israil and us do it alot , thay use uranim in thier war,we must be liberal, y u suppot terrorist regim like us and israil? say dont try to test us, we r strong about our bordes. about 1980 wen US rush us with his soldier (saddam) they found how we were and we r.


Mart April 15, 2010 at 9:18 am

Yes you are a calm people. The government killing your own people openly in its capital is a sure sign of calm. You make it sound like you are civilised but you have no problem when people are killed or tortured because they voice criticism about your dear hitler. Can you say with a straight face that Iran has never had any involvement in insurgency in places like Iraq and Afghanistan or with arming islamic militia all around the world? THe truth my friend is that a sword in the hands of Islam is a very very bad idea because the idea of killing in the name of allah is a righteous thing to you – this is why you spew hatred and spread lies in order to justify your lust for war.

You are only calm because you see no problem with people being blown up by your islamic soldiers and only raise objections when the west stands up to defend peoples right to live without islamic tyranny.


Tyler April 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm

DUMBASS!! Screw Iran and North Korea and China. All three are horribly misguided and should not be allowed to treat their people the way they do. It is time for their people to rise up and overthrow them, to better there own lives. Nukes will not help the outside world help Iran. Not only should we prevent them from having them (through force if necessary, which it seems to be right now in Iran) but their own people should rise up and tell their leadership NO!
BTW, learn how to use spell check or something, your comment is f***ed up my misguided friend.


chuck April 14, 2010 at 7:13 pm

If I was the leader of Iran I would probably develop nukes too. Their enemy Israel has had nukes for decades and i never heard any outcry from the international community about that. Let's remember that Israel started the nuke race in the middle east. Now they must live with their neighbors getting what they have. For the world to say that the Iranian people are entitled to the same security as Israel is absurd.


Jon April 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm

The difference is Israel has never even made hints at using nuclear capabilities but the Iranian President continues to make threats to destroy Israel.

Our problem in the West is we tend to scoff at the Arab world when they say things like this, treating it as hyperbole. Bitter experience should teach us it is not.

As to who started the WMD race in the Middle East that would have been Egypt by recruiting Nazi scientists to work on Chem-Bio missiles after WWII. Israeli Mossad first tried "discouraging this" then Israel decided they needed appropriate and proportionate defense and let's be honest the US is the only one to ever use Nukes on an enemy, no?


chuck April 14, 2010 at 11:30 pm

American's always think they can tell other counties what they can and cannot do. They destroyed an entire country(Iraq) based on lies. Now they want to destroy another country based on lies too. What evidence do they have that Iran is building a nuke? I haven't seen any hard evidence. We're just supposed to take the word of some politicians just like people did before the US destroyed Iraq. All that intel was wrong. But America justifies that because their leader was a bad man. Someone America doesn't agree with. How many innocent civilians and American soldiers died because of lies? Just like America & Israel now doesn't like the leader of Iran. So America and Israel want to get rid of him and use the excuse of Iran possibly working on a nuke. Sound familiar?

Now why didn't the US do whatever it took to stop N Korea, Pak, India, ect from getting the bomb. Oh yea, because Israel didn't push them to do it.

Why can't America just mind it's own business and leave other countries to figure things out. Oh yea, because America thinks it's in charge of the world.


Maxtrue April 14, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Ron "chuck" Paul, we tried that and it brought us WW1 and WW2. If you think its just the "leader" of Iran and wish to play the false equivalency game, go ahead and post the last word. I won't stop you…


Mart April 15, 2010 at 9:24 am

While America was busy rebuilding Iraq, your holy islamic solidiers were busy killing the local population. America went in to Iraq to free people from tyranny of dictatorship. What does islamic militancy have to offer exactly? God??? You are mistaken if you think the koran is a holy book.


Maxtrue April 14, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I though the posters here were smart. So do they think Iran is not working with NK? You think they aren't already working on warhead designs and missiles?
Or did everyone buy into the NIE Report of 2007? The first thing I believe Israel tested was a neutron bomb in 1979. NK tests seem low yield too and many pundits speculate NK and Iran would go for nukes that they can launch and have some tactical advantage. Indians and Pakistanis have since 2000 made clear their pursuit of MRRs. They are too close to use messy nukes.

Isn't it clear Iran seeks to leap-frog when all the parts are together. Soon they will have both heavy water plant working and their new reactor to access plutonium. Western experts have been wrong consistently about Iran. The most accurate group was MEK, who says Iran as more facilities and is much further along than the WH thinks.

Yes Chuck, keep going with that false equivalency game. Israel never questioned the existence of Syria or Iran. The international community didn't cry because they saw Israel's quest as one of self-preservation. Who is threatening to eliminate Iran?

Come one, we're waiting…….


john April 15, 2010 at 12:57 am

Last time I checked, Iraq was NOT destroyed.


jacksonpolitic April 15, 2010 at 7:20 am

iraq is destroyed land, US killed about 1,300,000 ppl in iraq y u said its not destroyd,????? be liberal dud.


Maxtrue April 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Be sane dude. Learning English would help too.


BLight April 15, 2010 at 1:57 pm

If a million Iraqis died it would be virtually impossible to conceal. The cemeteries at Najaf would have to close at overcapacity.

When the Iraqi government puts out the census numbers, guess what? Most of those dead Iraqis were killed by death squads indirectly supported by Iran. Interior Ministry? Iranian puppets. Mahdi Army? Iranian puppets. Followed by Al Qaeda and then local patriots.

jackson are you trying to be Iraqi information minister?


kim April 15, 2010 at 11:34 pm

3-400 Iraqis killed, tops.


J Weich April 16, 2010 at 5:54 am

Actually the figure is likely closer to several hundred thousand. Remember that the US launched the war on known false pretences. In doing so they are directly responsible for all the deaths of the local population above the average level at that time, whether they directly killed them or not. They instigated the conflict and consequently a fuck of a lot of innocents died that would not have otherwise. J Weich

Oblat April 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm

The really funny thing is that the US and Israel is certain that there is a hidden Iranian program not because of any evidence (of which there is none) but simply because they know it would be the best and smartest thing for the Iranians to do.

They cant believe anyone would be dumb enough to emulate Saddam and disarm, when faced with US and Israeli threats, sanctions, terrorist attacks and a full scale proxy war all conducted in the last 40 years with the aim of overthrowing the government.

The real problem with Iranian nukes is that US attacks would have to stop and the dream of regime change would be over.


Sev April 15, 2010 at 4:39 am

If NK has one. Iran definitely has one on the way and SOON. If you don't think NK would help Iran, I would say you are mistaken. Iran will have a test within a year or so and then what?


Pete April 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm

You write as if NK and Iran were across the street from each other. Do you not think that the US is watching for this sort of cooperation? So if Iran does not test within a year, what will you say then?


mad mike April 15, 2010 at 5:46 am

Our most pressing problem in this area right now is preventing Israel from unilaterally attacking and destroying Iran's nuclear sites. It would be disastrous from a foreign-policy standpoint, and probably would not be entirely successful from a tactical standpoint either. But, Israel seems to be chomping at the bit to go all the way. And, if they happen to fly-over US-controlled airspace, we could find ouselves knee-deep in alligators, to put it mildly.


@Earlydawn April 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm

This is the most intelligent comment on this story. If Israel goes over the border and (tries to) bomb Iran's production facilities, Tehran will close the strait and trap a MINIMUM of a carrier group in the Gulf. Iran has hardened anti-shipping missiles along that whole area. It could get real messy.


Brandon April 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

It would be one hell of a $hit storm but I think that our navy could handle it. and i think isreal is smart enough not to put us in that situation.


jacksonpolitic April 15, 2010 at 7:24 am

i wish we r liberal and make a peace word.iran has no NK weapon and all ppl know it, dont try to distroy the word.


will April 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

were all gonna die


Joe Cottone sr April 15, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I for one am not buying this 3 to 5 years away bullshit. I can almost see that it will happen in a year or less that they are testing either the bomb itself or the uranium needed to do so, and in less than another year to detonate a bomb.


pete April 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Dude, the second they test a bomb, there aint going to be another year left to detonate it. Israel is going to blow the facilities off the map.


leper April 15, 2010 at 8:06 pm

That is the Iranian psykwar officer's motto right?If we knew this, we would attack,and also Israel.


leper April 15, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Russia was supplying them years ago,and the news reported it?Thats how I know America is lying again.


Chris April 16, 2010 at 3:56 am

Really? Just one year after 2012…


J Weich April 16, 2010 at 6:14 am

Please, all you armchair nuclear experts that sit in front of Fox News and lap it up, provide us with your evidence (no matter how small) that Iran is working on Nuclear weapons. You can't? I thought so. And for all you idiots that think Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, he hasn't. He was repeating a statement from Ayatollah Khomeini that said that the Israeli regime will soon end. The regime, as in the USSR, not the people as in Russians et al. That bears no resemblance to "wipe off the map", which is just used as a propaganda tool by Israel to frighten people into obliging their foreign policy objectives. Not to mention that Ahmadinejad actually has no control over the Iranian military. That function is reserved for Ali Khamenei, who incidentally has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons as un-Islamic. Believe what you will, but for Christ's sake do so on actual evidence, not hearsay. Too many lives are at stake.


Neo Politicus April 16, 2010 at 8:57 am

Yeah – let's just ignore a country run by multiple groups of fanatics who are at odd with each other – and who have been directly responsible for murdering 2,000 American soldiers in Iraq.


PVF April 17, 2010 at 2:56 am

Hi,I jast say [we don't need a nukes]


Todd A Dobesh April 20, 2010 at 5:38 am



Gary April 20, 2010 at 10:24 am

Is Obama relying on the same intelligence community that he said provided President Bush bad information when he decided to go into Iraq to stop their WMD development? At least Bush took preemtive action whereas Obama seems to be content with waiting until the genie is ready to come out of the bottle. He’s taking a big risk.


Jago April 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

They already have a means of delivery.  It is called a truck.  A ship coming into New York Harbor could also work well. You can also just wrap the uranium around some TNT and you have a dirty bomb to spred  radioactive material.


Webb April 20, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Their Shahab missile can hit any point in Israel. Weather they are building nukes now or not they are the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Intel has confirmed they helped the insurgency in Iraq in the past. Regime change in Iran would be good for several reasons even if they are completely innocent of any inclination to build a nuclear weapon.


Adrian_Wainer November 11, 2010 at 5:56 pm

" To develop a “deliverable weapon that is usable tactically… something that can actually create a detonation, an explosion that would be considered a nuclear weapon” would take “another two to three, potentially out to five years.” "

If one is talking about a Uranium 235 "Little Boy" fission bomb, the estimation of up to five years to develop a bomb, is insane. The Iranians could build a little boy within months and build several a year. If the Iranians are going down the the U235 Little Boy route, they may already several of these weapons but presumably without the U235. The only difficulty the Iranians would have in creating fully operational Little Boys, is obtaining U235.


blight December 19, 2010 at 8:05 am

There's also delivery, since gun-type bombs tend to be much larger than implosion-type weapons. That and the need to engineer failsafes so the slug doesn't go flying into the core and prematurely trigger critical mass.


Rosco December 19, 2010 at 7:55 am

It is going to be funny watching the lefties spin thier way out of this when Iran tests a nuke, after all the Guardian and other left wing rags have all been telling us what peaceful folks they are.

It'll all be Bush's fault just you wait, they'll blame him for not stopping it.and then say it was his fault Iran pursued atomic weapons int the first place because George was a big bad meany.


Brandon April 15, 2010 at 3:48 pm

to bad uranium from or nuke plants is LE uranium and has sensors to indicate even a very small leak.


pete April 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Man, I hope you're joking because this is dumbest comment I have ever read. You think some secret agent can sneak into a US base, then into a nuclear facility, find all the enriched uranium and waste that just happens to be conveniently lying everywhere, put it into a backpack, dress up like an army private and sneak out of the base, cross the border and deliver the uranium to Iran? Geez, you've been watching Tom Cruise playing Mission Impossible one two many times.


Pete April 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Nah, Clifton is right. Its the fault of all these 'terrorist alien immigrants'. Seal the borders and America will never be threatened.


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