London: Iran is poised to produce its first nuclear warhead and will be able to do so within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a media report said on Sunday.
Quoting Western intelligence sources, The Times daily claimed that Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the green signal from its Supreme Leader.
A US National Intelligence Estimate two years ago had concluded that Iran had ended its nuclear arms research programme in 2003 because of the threat from the American invasion of Iraq.
But intelligence sources told the newspaper that Tehran had halted the research because it had achieved its aim – to find a way of detonating a warhead that could be launched on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles.
Should Ayatollah Khamenei approve building of a nuclear device, it would take six months to enrich enough uranium and another six months to assemble the warhead, sources said.
The Iranian Defence Ministry has been running a covert nuclear research department for years, employing hundreds of scientists, researchers and metallurgists in a multibillion-dollar programme to develop the technology alongside the civilian nuclear programme, it said.
The report said Iran`s scientists have been trying to master a method of detonating a bomb known as the "multipoint initiation system" - wrapping highly enriched uranium in high explosives and then detonating it.
The sources said that the Iranian Defence Ministry had used a secret internal agency called Amad ("Supply" in Farsi), led by Mohsin Fakhri Zadeh, a physics professor and senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council.
"If the Supreme Leader takes the decision (to build a bomb), we assess they have to enrich low-enriched uranium to highly-enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, which could take six months, depending on how many centrifuges are operating.”
"We don`t know if the decision was made yet," said the intelligence sources, adding that Iran could have created smaller, secret facilities, other than those at the heavily guarded bunker at Natanz to develop materials for a first bomb.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency only keep tabs on fissile material produced at monitored sites and not the number of centrifuges that Iran has built.
Washington has given Iran until next month to open talks on resolving the nuclear crisis, although hopes of any constructive engagement have dimmed since the regime`s crackdown on pro-reformist protesters after June`s disputed Presidential Elections.
Ehud Barak, Israel`s Defence Minister, said last week that a military strike against Iran`s nuclear facilities was still an option, should the talks fail.