Iran has enough material to bail nuclear bomb, says ADM Mike Mullen
America's most senior military officer said that Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb, the first time the United States has made such an assessment.
"We think they do, quite frankly," Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told CNN when asked if Iran had enough nuclear material to manufacture an atom bomb.
"And Iran having a nuclear weapon, I've believed for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world," said Adm Mullen.
While the United States and European allies have expressed concern previously that Iran could soon have sufficient enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon, Adm Mullen's more definitive comments went a step further.
The admiral's remarks came in the wake of a report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency that said Tehran had made strides in its uranium enrichment work.
Some analysts have said Iran may soon have sufficient material to make a nuclear bomb.
According to the IAEA, Tehran now has 1,010 kilograms of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride from its enrichment activities at a plant at Natanz.
That "is sufficient for a nuclear weapons breakout capability," according to David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security and an expert on Iran's nuclear programme.
A breakout capability is when there is sufficient low-enriched uranium, which is used for nuclear fuel, to turn into highly-enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.
Iran denies its atomic work is designed to build a nuclear arsenal and says it wants to develop nuclear technology to generate electricity for a growing population.
US defence secretary Robert Gates meanwhile struck a more cautious note on Iran's nuclear project in an interview on NBC television.
"I think that there has been a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program? They're not close to a stockpile. They're not close to a weapon at this point.
"And so, there is some time," Mr Gates said.
He said diplomacy carried a greater chance of success now that oil prices had dropped, enhancing the effect of economic sanctions on Iran - which relies heavily on oil revenue.
"Our chances of being successful, it seems to me, are a lot better at $35 or $40" than $140 a barrel, Mr Gates said.
"Because there are economic costs to this program. They do have economic challenges at home."