Iran Timetables Still Elusive

With no prior information on breakout times, the whole world will know what they are when the bomb goes off, so how’s that for transparency?

Baruch Stein,

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Baruch Stein
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Since its April second announcement, the framework agreement with Iran has taken center stage. President Obama's comments on NPR on April seventh when he appeared to say that by the thirteenth year the framework is in effect Iran would be able to produce a nuclear bomb with almost no breakout period harmed what had started out as a strong effort to sell the agreement. Despite efforts to repair the damage, including State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf's assertion that he was referring to what the situation would be should the agreement not take effect, the uncomfortable truth of the situation is clear enough from information that has already been released.

Upon the announcement of the agreement press conferences were held by both Obama, and Secretary of State John Kerry, and a fact sheet with information about the framework was distributed by the State Department. 

Will the breakout time ever in fact reach zero?
Under the framework the number of centrifuges that Iran will have installed will be reduced by approximately two-thirds, but only for the first ten years that any final agreement is in effect. Iran will not operate any of its more advanced centrifuges, for ten years. Iran will not produce highly enriched uranium, for fifteen years. The amount of low-enriched uranium that Iran will stockpile will be limited to 300 kilograms, for fifteen years. Iran's nuclear breakout period will be one year, for the first ten years that the agreement is in effect. Iran's breakout period is currently two to three months, a time frame arrived at based on an agreement from 2013 that limited Iran's nuclear program to the levels that are currently in place.

If Iran's breakout period will be one year for the first ten years that a final agreement is in effect, and if after ten years restrictions on the number and type of centrifuges they are able to operate will expire, it is clear that after ten years the breakout time will drop significantly. If five years later restrictions on the amount of fissile material they are allowed to stockpile will expire, it is clear that at that point the breakout period will be reduced even further. If, in accordance with the restrictions of the 2013 agreement the breakout period is currently two to three months, it is clear that when restrictions on centrifuges and stockpiles of fissile material are eliminated, the breakout period will be significantly less than that.

When Obama said that by year thirteen Iran would need almost no breakout time to build a bomb it did not help his case, but based on the available information it does not sound so unlikely.

So just how long does the administration presume the breakout time will be during the eleventh year that a final agreement would be in effect? And on the thirteenth year? The sixteenth? Will the breakout time ever in fact reach zero?

Since Marie Harf is so intent on setting the record straight, let her, or Obama, do just that. They can defer to their experts if they like, but I want the future breakout timetables on public record before any final decisions are made. In her April seventh press conference Harf did not have any such timetables for after year ten.

The breakout period is the crux of the matter. Should Iran try to build a bomb, the amount of time it would physically take them must be long enough for the international community to be able to identify and head-off the effort.

Should the breakout time ever reach a practical zero, no level of international inspection would matter. No degree of prearranged snap sanctions would be relevant. Iran would be able to launch a nuclear attack before anybody would be able to stop it. The indefinite transparency measures and the provisions for snap sanctions that the administration has touted would be useless. No need for nerds or cameras, the whole world will know when the bomb goes off, so how’s that for transparency?

If Obama takes the threat of a nuclear armed Iran seriously, requiring that the breakout time will never be less than one year should be obvious.

The writer has a BA in Political Science from Penn State University, with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies. He has been living in Jerusalem for more than six years. 

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