Iran could make enough material for nuclear bomb in “weeks” if the regime decides it wants one, top U.S. officials told senators today, showcasing just how much its breakout timeline has shrunk since the Trump administration withdrew from a key agreement four years ago.

The assessment, briefed to lawmakers in a classified setting Wednesday, is slightly more rosy than shorter breakout periods — such as three to four weeks — cited by other analysts and senators. But it still adds a sense of urgency to ongoing negotiations in Austria to bring Washington and Tehran back into an agreement resembling the abandoned 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“I see no way to stop Iran’s progress other than reentering this deal. And I left the briefing more certain than ever that we better be serious about trying to get back into an agreement,” Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East panel, told our own ANDREW DESIDERIO.

Murphy wouldn’t confirm the exact timeline the NSC’s Middle East lead BRETT McGURK and top Iran deal negotiator ROB MALLEY told lawmakers, but he did note that “public reports” mention a two-month timeframe. A House Democrat, who asked not to be named, affirmed to NatSec Daily that the “weeks” breakout time “is also my understanding.”

President JOE BIDEN’s team is in Vienna for an eighth round of talks with Iran and other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear pact is formally known. U.S. officials insist that negotiations are in the “final phase” but that a renewed agreement must be struck by the end of the month. Otherwise, the painstaking diplomacy might fall apart — putting even fewer constraints on Iran’s nuclear work than exist today.

“That two-month timeline is almost certainly shrinking, and there’s a risk that it gets so short that it would be very difficult for the U.S. to detect and prevent an attempt by Iran to produce weapons-grade uranium. That’s not a place we want to be, even if an Iranian breakout remains unlikely,” said ERIC BREWER, senior director of the nuclear materials security team at the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington, D.C.

The briefing is also likely to increase congressional attention on the Iran issue. Most Senate Democrats have mobilized to back the administration’s effort to revive the nuclear deal, though some — namely Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) — are skeptical of its benefits.

“I don’t think members know exactly what reentry [into JCPOA] means. What is the deal? Is it exactly the way it was? Is it different? If so, how? What are we giving?” he told Desiderio after the briefing. “They should walk away when they see there’s not a good deal to be had. I don’t know what the timing of that is, but whenever that is, the window is closing fast.”

Meanwhile, more than 30 Senate Republicans — led by Sen. TED CRUZ (R-Texas) — sent a letter to Biden this week demanding he give them a say over whether the U.S. rejoins the nuclear deal. “[W]e reiterate our view that any agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program is of such gravity for U.S. national security that by definition it is a treaty requiring Senate advice and consent,” they wrote. “Furthermore, genuinely robust nuclear agreement with Iran would be compelling enough to secure assent from two-thirds of the Senate — and the only reason not to present it for a resolution of ratification is that it is too weak to pass muster.”

NatSec Daily, then, can now confidently assess that the breakout timeline for another large congressional fight over the Iran deal is just “weeks” away.

Source » trackpersia