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Iran Nuclear Negotiations to Begin Amid Doubts

No one really knows how long it will take before Iran can build a nuclear bomb. AP / CBS

Central to the ongoing international negotiations over what to do about Iran's nuclear program is just how long the world has before the Islamic Republic has a nuclear bomb. The timetable largely hinges on when Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium to build a warhead.

The production of highly enriched uranium is what many consider to be the largest hurdle towards a country obtaining a nuclear bomb.

In 2009, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the world has until 2011. A little later, an Israeli cabinet minister said Iran will be warhead-ready in about three years. A few weeks ago, Meir Dagan, the former Israeli spy chief said Iran won't be able to build a bomb until 2015.

On the eve of international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, however, both a group of American scientists and released WikiLeaks diplomatic cables have shed doubt on the long term projections for Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities.

A US representative said at a meeting of nuclear scientists in 2009 that "Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose," reports the U.K. daily Guardian.

Furthermore, British officials said at the time that Dagan's assessment of Iran's enrichment capability could be way off. They claim Iran will be able to amass 20 tons of low enriched uranium by 2014 - enough, if further enriched, to make 19 warheads.

Complicating this picture is a report by the Federation of American Scientists, who told the Associated Press that Iran appears to have increased efficiency of the machines that produce enriched uranium by 60 percent, giving it the technical capacity to produce enough material for a simple nuclear warhead in 5 months.

Iran has not allowed thorough inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency, so the international community will commence negotiations in Istanbul this week based on a lot of educated guesses and Iran's self-reported capabilities.

The hope for a compromise is low.

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