LONDON, July 13 (UPI) -- Iran will likely have nuclear weapons in two years, Britain's spy chief said, but could have had them two years ago if the spy agency hadn't foiled its plans.
The country is "two years away" from becoming a "nuclear weapons state," Secret Intelligence Service chief John Sawers told a British civil servants conference in London.
If that moment comes, the United States, Israel or both would have to decide whether to launch a military strike, Sawers told the Civil Service Live conference in remarks first published by Civil Service World, a publication for senior British government officials.
His comments last week, in a talk titled "Unclassified Chat: Sir John Sawers CMG," were published Friday by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.
"The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons -- all the technologies they need," he said. "It's equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state."
Without the work of the Secret Intelligence Service -- often called MI6 for Military Intelligence, Section 6 -- "you'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012," Sawers said.
He didn't explain what MI6 did to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran claims are strictly peaceful.
He said it was up to MI6 to "delay that awful moment when the politicians may have to take a decision between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or launching a military strike against Iran."
At that point, "I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran," Sawers said.
Washington and Jerusalem had no immediate comment about Sawers' remarks.
Iran has accused the United States and Israel of trying to disrupt its nuclear program through covert operations by the CIA and Israel's Mossad national intelligence agency.
Tehran is pursuing uranium enrichment despite sweeping new U.S. and European sanctions meant to cut Iran off from the global oil market, which the Obama administration tightened further Thursday.
The Treasury Department said the administration would impose additional measures against more than a dozen companies and people involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The new measures were intended to eliminate loopholes in existing U.S. sanctions against Iran, the department said.
The department also identified what it said were seemingly legitimate shipping companies that were actually fronts Tehran used to try to evade American and European restrictions on its oil exports.