February 13, 2024 | Flash Brief

Former Iranian Official Hints at Nuclear Weapons Program

February 13, 2024 | Flash Brief

Former Iranian Official Hints at Nuclear Weapons Program

Latest Developments

Tehran maintains a nuclear weapons program, a former senior Iranian official appeared to suggest in an interview broadcast on February 12. Iran has crossed “all the thresholds of nuclear science and technology,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, who previously served as Iran’s foreign minister (2010-2013) and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (2009-2010, 2013-2021). “Here’s an example: Imagine what a car needs; it needs a chassis, an engine, a steering wheel, a gearbox. You’re asking if we’ve made the gearbox, I say yes. Have we made the engine? Yes, but each one serves its own purpose.”

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi reacted to Salehi’s comments on February 13, asserting that Iran was “not entirely transparent” with its nuclear activities. “A very high official said, in fact, we have everything, it’s disassembled,” Grossi said. “Well, please let me know what you have.”

Expert Analysis

“Iran’s unstructured nuclear weapons program is a direct result of the Biden administration’s failed Iran policy. Biden must reverse course soon. The world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism cannot be allowed to add a nuclear weapon to its arsenal.” — Anthony Ruggiero, FDD Senior Fellow and Senior Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

“Salehi’s comments appear to describe what we believe is the way Iran continued to progress its nuclear weaponization program after 2003: in a dispersed fashion and relying heavily on computer simulations to prepare for a future nuclear breakout. Once the regime decides to divert enriched uranium from international safeguards, it may already be too late to stop Tehran from weaponizing. This should behoove Washington and its partners to end their failed Iran policy, demand international oversight, and institute meaningful penalties and pressure against the regime.” — Andrea Stricker, FDD Research Fellow and Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

Iran’s Nuclear Progress

Since President Biden’s election, Iran has amassed enough enriched uranium for 12 nuclear weapons. For its first bomb, Tehran could further enrich enough uranium to weapons-grade in as little as seven days. In June 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told Congress that Iran is “not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device.” However, Salehi’s comments are inconsistent with this assessment and suggest the year or more timeline that the United States and Israel frequently assign to Iran’s production of a functioning nuclear device may be wrong.

No Evidence Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program Ended

Iran previously had a structured nuclear weapons program aimed at building an initial five nuclear weapons by 2003 and then testing them, followed by the production of a larger nuclear arsenal. Iranian documents acquired by the Israeli Mossad in 2018 show that in mid-2003, under growing international scrutiny, Tehran decided to disperse and hide key nuclear weaponization activities and progress them in a less structured fashion. Due to Iranian stonewalling, the IAEA has not been able to ascertain whether such activities continue today.

Any work on nuclear weapons, even in an unstructured way, would be a violation of Iran’s commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran ratified in 1970 and is separate from any disputes over the status of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

How Quickly Could Iran Enrich Uranium for Nuclear Weapons?” FDD Graphic

FDD Supplemental Iran Nuclear Assessment to ODNI Annual Report,” by Richard Goldberg, Anthony Ruggiero, and Andrea Stricker

Iran Approaches the Nuclear Threshold,” by Andrea Stricker and Anthony Ruggiero


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation