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Construction work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran on Nov. 10, 2019. (Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Iran is seeking Russian help to bolster its nuclear program, US intelligence officials say, as Tehran seeks a back-up plan should a lasting nuclear deal with world powers fail to materialize.

The intelligence suggests Iran has asked Russia to help it acquire additional nuclear materials and manufacture nuclear fuel, sources briefed on the matter said. The fuel could help Iran power its nuclear reactors and could potentially further shorten Iran’s so-called “breakout time” to create a nuclear weapon.

Experts have told CNN, however, that the risk of nuclear proliferation varies depending on which reactor the fuel is used for. And it’s also unclear whether Russia has agreed to help — the Kremlin has long opposed Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

But the Iranian proposal came as part of an expanding Iran-Russia partnership that in recent months has included Iran sending drones and other equipment to Russia for use in its war. in Ukraine, and Moscow potentially advising Tehran on how to quell a protest movement sweeping Iran. , U.S. officials said.

Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and has officially halted its weapons program, but US officials say Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have far exceeded the parameters of the 2015 nuclear deal and that the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon has shrunk to just a few months.

In June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned lawmakers that Iran’s “nuclear program” was advancing at a gallop… The longer this lasts, the shorter the escape time… it is now reduced, according to public reports, a few months at best. And if it continues, it will only take a few weeks.”

The Biden administration is watching with concern any new areas of cooperation between Iran and Russia. Any covert Russian aid to Iran that could boost Iranian efforts to produce a nuclear weapon would also mark a significant shift in Russian policy, given Russia’s membership in the P5+1 group of countries that took part in negotiations to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

“As we said, the JCPOA is not on the agenda,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told CNN, referring to the official name of the agreement on the Iranian nuclear, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We have worked with partners to expose the growing ties between Iran and Russia – and hold them accountable. We will be firm in countering any cooperation that would defeat our non-proliferation goals.”

Iran’s mission to the UN and the Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story has been updated to clarify the description of Iran’s nuclear program.

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