“I think they like the idea of being able to break out,” Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told Time magazine of Iran’s rulers, using the term for when Tehran will enrich enough uranium to create a single nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, has cautioned that its capacity to watch Iran’s nuclear program has been curtailed in recent months.
On Wednesday, IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi suggested that the agency is “close to the point where I would not be able to guarantee continuity of knowledge” due to stonewalling by Iranian officials.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is trying to reenlist into the 2015 nuclear deal, which relieved sanctions on Iran in return for restraints on its nuclear program and which President Donald Trump pulled the US out of in 2018.
“Our president said they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon,” McKenzie told Time. “The diplomats are in the lead on this, but Central Command always has a variety of plans that we could execute, if directed.”
McKenzie’s words echoed comments by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told an audience in Bahrain Saturday that “the United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, and we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue.”
“But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously,” Austin added, “then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep the United States secure.”
McKenzie noted that even if Iran manufactures enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, the US has seen no evidence that the regime has perfected a design for a warhead that can fit atop one of its estimated 3,000 ballistic missiles. Nor, the general said, has Iran created an effective re-entry vehicle.
“We haven’t seen any of that,” McKenzie told Time. “That’s what’s going to take a little time for them to build.”
Still, the general suggested that Iran has a “very capable” ballistic missile program, calling it “the one thing the Iranians have done over the last three to five years.”
Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — the other countries that joined the 2015 nuclear agreement — plan to meet Iranian officials in Vienna for another round of talks.
Iran has long maintained that its program is peaceful, though the IAEA and US intelligence agencies say Tehran had an organized weapons program up until 2003.