Does The Sun Set on Iran Framework?

Imagine Iran being able to produce and launch a nuclear weapon in days, or even hours. It can happen.

Baruch Stein,

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Baruch Stein
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In his press conference on the framework agreement reached with Iran there was one point about which John Kerry was, in his own words, “very clear…. There will be no sunset to the deal that we are working to finalize.”

The framework stipulates a variety of restrictions to be placed on the Iranian nuclear program which would remain in effect for varying periods of time creating a phased system where they are gradually reduced. Unfortunately, most of this system is irrelevant.

The thing that matters to those who find themselves under threat of an attack is Iran's “breakout time,” the time it would take to produce the material to build a nuclear bomb. Should Iran decide to make a run for it there needs to be enough time and oversight for the effort to be discovered and headed off.

Kerry asserts that the framework provides for a breakout time of one year. Assuming Iran does not breach the framework, whether overtly or covertly, an assumption that is hard to have confidence in, one year remains the breakout time for no more than the first ten years of the agreement.

President Obama's acknowledgment on April seventh that by year thirteen there will be no breakout period was unnecessary. Regardless of attempts to backpedal on Obama's statements, the information available is enough to illustrate such a reality. At that point it’s not clear what purpose inspections would serve, even if they take place indefinitely.

After ten years the breakout time will drop. Other elements of the agreement would still apply. Some would have “no sunset.” But come year eleven, who really cares that Iran has agreed to allow inspectors to have access to facilities that at that point would have the machinery in place to build a bomb at a rapid pace should they suddenly decide to make a run for it?

Come year sixteen, who really cares that Iran has agreed to allow inspectors to have access to facilities that at that point would have machinery and a stockpile of fissile material in place to allow them to build a bomb in a matter of... in sixteen years, who knows how fast?

Iran could build a bomb under the cover of a “technical disagreement with inspectors” over which they would suddenly reduce access to their facilities at which point there would be only limited information available about what was going on inside them and essentially no time at all needed to stall inspections, and either stall or survive snap sanctions, while producing a bomb. All sides would of course be working to resolve the “technical disagreement,” as soon as possible. It could even be a “disagreement” that would not seem significant enough to merit applying snap sanctions.

The breakout time can never be allowed to be less than a year.
Imagine Iran being able to produce and launch a nuclear weapon in days, or even hours. That is the scenario that after thirteen years this framework provides for. Relaying on a future President to be able to identify and neutralize the threat in that time frame is unacceptable.

The New York Times ran an article on April third about serious objections to the framework raised by Arab allies, but it is Prime Minister Netanyahu who has become the public face of the effort to limit the Iranian nuclear program. Both Kerry and Obama singled out Israel in their statements after the announcement of the agreement. Regardless of anyone else's objections, regardless of how reasonable the objections may be, Netanyahu will be singularly blamed in the court of public opinion should a final agreement not take hold.

Obama has asked those who question his effort to play nice with Iran to offer a viable alternative that Iran could agree to, asserting that those who have dared to oppose the deal would be satisfied with nothing less than total Iranian capitulation.

Only one thing needs to be changed about this deal. The breakout time can never be less than a year. To that end, the Iranians should never be allowed to stockpile enough fissile material to reduce the breakout time to less than a year, and they should never be allowed to have centrifuges capable of reducing the breakout time to less than a year. Never.

Peaceful nuclear programs don’t require such things anyway.

Iran can operate a peaceful nuclear program. This is not total capitulation, it’s what is needed to maintain the basic security needs of those who are actually under threat of attack. If the Iranians are not yet ready to agree, Congress can apply additional sanctions. The progress seen so far is testament to the success sanctions have had, while Obama’s assertion that there is no alternative to the current framework illustrates that the administration has negotiated out of fear.