JERUSALEM – Iran will possess the technology to build a nuclear bomb by early 2010 and be able to produce one the following year, Israeli media quoted Israel's defense minister as saying Monday.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered his assessment before the Israeli parliament's defense and foreign affairs committee. It broadly matches assessments from other nations including the U.S., which estimates that Tehran could produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015.
The Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the reports and a Barak spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment. The radio and newspaper Web site reports did not identify the source of their information, but participants in the committee meetings routinely brief reporters on the proceedings.
Earlier this month, Israel's military intelligence chief said Iran was close to an unspecified "technological breakthrough" that would enable it to build nuclear weapons. He did not elaborate on the breakthrough or say when exactly he expected Iran to have weapons-making capability.
Israel, like the West, disputes Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, not bombs. It has lobbied for tough sanctions against Iran and has not ruled out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
"The international community must act," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a separate gathering of Israeli diplomats. "If sanctions aren't imposed now, if true pressure isn't applied now — then when will they do it?"
A U.N.-drafted proposal aims to ease concerns that Iran could build a nuclear weapon by reducing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Under the proposal, the uranium would be shipped to France and Russia in exchange for more highly enriched fuel rods that are not suitable for use in weapons.
Iran has not formally responded to the U.N. proposal, but recently proposed Turkey as a possible venue for exchanging nuclear material with the West.