WASHINGTON - Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to make a single nuclear device within a year, but it would take three to five years before the Islamic republic could manufacture a usable nuclear weapon, senior military officials told Congress yesterday.
The timeline, which is consistent with past U.S. government estimates of Iran's nuclear progress, suggests that there still may be a window for diplomatic and economic pressure to dissuade Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran, which is operating thousands of centrifuges in a plant at Natanz, could have enough highly enriched uranium to fuel a weapon within a year.
However, Cartwright said, "It would take another two to three, potentially out to five years, to move from the idea of having the material to a deliverable weapon that is usable."
Republican and Democratic senators expressed impatience with President Obama's efforts to enact tougher United Nations sanctions against Iran, efforts that have been slowed by objections from China and Russia.
After months of refusal, China agreed last week to join five nations in negotiating a new Security Council resolution imposing sanctions.