The Iranian government has long maintained that its nuclear program is intended for strictly non-military purposes, despite a parallel program for the development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
But if Iran’s nuclear program is, as is widely believed, not only intended for civilian purposes, just how long would it take the regime in Tehran to construct an atomic weapon?
That was the question posed by Washington Post reporter Josh Rogin to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.
“If you decided to build a nuclear weapon right now, exactly how long would it take?”
In response, Zarif again denied that the Islamist regime was interested in pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing instead that Tehran was ideologically opposed to atomic arms. Notably, however, the Iranian Foreign Minister never directly responded to the question, providing no information on how long Iran would need – even theoretically – to produce a nuclear weapon.
“We are not going to produce nuclear weapons, period,” said Zarif. “So it will take forever for Iran to make nuclear weapons. People will be happy saying that they have extended breakout capability to one year. Let them be happy. And I'm happy that they're happy."
"We believe that nuclear weapons do no augment our security, nor do they augment anybody's security."
Zarif also dismissed warnings by the Trump administration against further ballistic missile tests, saying Iran does not “respond well to threats.”
"Iran is unmoved by threats. Iran responds very well to respect. We don't respond well to threats. And everybody tested us for many years. All threats and coercions were imposed on Iran. You remember the concept of 'crippling sanctions'? The crippling sanctions produced a net total of 19,800 centrifuges, because when those crippling sanctions were imposed on Iran, we had less than 200 centrifuges.
“When the United States came to the negotiating table, we had 20,000 centrifuges. And the objective of those crippling sanctions was to push Iran to have zero centrifuges. So Iran doesn't respond well to threats, we don't respond well to coercion, we don't respond well to sanctions. But we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios, as we did with JCPOA. And I think that's a lesson that history has taught all of us.”
Later in the question and answer session, Zarif, who had earlier said Iran was interested in opening dialogue with regional rivals, indicated that Israel would not be welcome in such talks.
When asked "Is Iran willing to include Israel in that kind of dialogue?" Zarif replied that only Muslim states in and around the Persian Gulf would be included.
"Under regional dialogue I said that I'm modest, I'm focusing on the Persian Gulf. We have enough problems in this region. So we want to start a dialogue with countries that we call brothers. We call each other brothers in Islam. We need to address the common problems and perceptions that have given rise to... the level of violence that exists in the region."