US CENTCOM chief: Iran ‘very close’ to nuclear bomb but we have a Plan B if talks fail

Iran is still more than a year away from having a viable delivery system for a bomb, General Kenneth Mackenzie also told Time Magazine.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of the U.S. military’s Central Command thinks Iran is nearing the point where it could make a nuclear weapon, and has ready options to use military force if necessary to stop it if negotiations for resuming the nuclear deal fail, Time Magazine reported Wednesday.

“Our president said they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon,” General Kenneth McKenzie told the weekly. “The diplomats are in the lead on this, but Central Command always has a variety of plans that we could execute, if directed.”

After a hiatus of almost half a year, indirect talks with Iran are set to begin again on Monday over a return to the 2015 agreement that delayed the country’s march to a bomb in return for international sanctions relief that had bitten deep into Iran’s economy.

Former president Donald Trump called the deal “the worst ever” when he walked away from it in 2018 because its sunset clauses would allow Iran to continue its nuclear program full-force with international approval after some ten years. The European, Russian and Chinese co-signers did not join the U.S. in applying the snapback economic sanctions and Iran was not driven back to the negotiating table. Instead, it has multiplied its highly enriched uranium stockpile, some of it to one step below weapons-grade, and started to produce uranium metal, which has no civilian use but is a necessary ingredient for a bomb.

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“They’re very close this time,” McKenzie said. “I think they like the idea of being able to breakout.”

Even if Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state, it is still more than a year away from threatening other countries with a nuclear airstrike, according to Mackenzie. He told Time that it would take at least that amount of time for the country’s nuclear team to figure out how to make a warhead small enough to fit on the country’s ballistic missiles.

However, Iranian missiles are accurate, he said, pointing to a January strike in which over a dozen missiles hit three Iraqi bases where hundreds of American troops lived. Although there were no deaths in that case, over a hundred soldiers suffered concussive injuries from the strike that decimated many buildings and aircraft.

America’s Gulf allies are extremely concerned over this capability. The mullahs have also boasted that they could reach Israel, and Jerusalem considers Iran to be its biggest strategic threat by far.

Israel has made it clear to the U.S. that it doesn’t think the original deal is worth going back to, considering the major progress Iran has made in its nuclear program. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that time is short, and has also stated that there are other possibilities if diplomacy doesn’t work.

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Talking to CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program in late October, Blinken said that the government was “looking at, as necessary, other options if Iran is not prepared to engage quickly in good faith​ ​t​o pick up where we left off in June…to see if we can get back to mutual compliance.”

When asked directly if this included military action, he answered, “As we always say, every option is on the table.”