A top Obama administration official has told Israel that Iran’s “dash”, or timeline for developing an atomic bomb, is at the very least one year rather than a few months, contrary to what Israeli intelligence officials believed.

Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s senior adviser on nuclear issues, told the New York Times, “We think that they have roughly a year dash time... A year is a very long period of time.”

The NYT also quoted unnamed administration officials as saying they believe that Mr. Samore’s assessment has “dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year”.

Iran’s “breakout”

At the heart of the matter is a question about the length of Iran’s “breakout”, or the time it would take to convert its stocks of low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material. According to the NYT report, the latest U.S. assessments regarding Iran’s breakout were based on “intelligence collected over the past year, as well as reports from international inspectors”.

However, the newspaper also noted that it was not clear whether the problems that Iran faced in enriching uranium resulted from poor centrifuge design, difficulty in obtaining components or accelerated Western efforts to sabotage the nuclear programme.

The comments follow similar remarks by Robert Gates, Secretary of Defence, in April. In a television interview alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Gates cast doubts upon the ability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons when he said, Iran was “not yet... nuclear capable”.

At the time Mr. Gates also said, “If their policy is to go to the threshold but not assemble a nuclear weapon, how do you tell that they have not assembled? So it becomes a serious verification question, and I do not actually know how you would verify that.”

During the interview, Ms. Clinton however avoided a direct question on whether Iran was nuclear capable or not. She said, “That’s an issue upon which intelligence services still differ. But our goal is to prevent them from having nuclear weapons.”

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