Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times of London.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate two years ago 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 have told The Times 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.

They said that, should Ayatollah Khamenei approve the building of a nuclear device, it would take six months to enrich enough uranium and another six months to assemble the warhead. 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 nuclear technology alongside the civilian nuclear program.

“The main thing (in 2003) was the lack of fissile material, so it was best to slow it down,” the sources said. “We think that the leader himself decided back then (to halt the program), after the good results.”

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.

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