US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama tried to put out a fire and ended up further fanning the flames. He was attempting to defend the framework deal with Iran, but uttered a sentence that his opponents are now using against him.
Obama, in an attempt to be decent, answered a question honestly and discovered that, in the world of political spin and manipulation, honesty about a complicated prospective agreement does not pay.
In answer to a question from his National Public Radio interviewer
on Tuesday, Obama said that once the comprehensive agreement ends, in 13-15 years from now (which, by the way, is an agreement that has not yet been reached), Iran will be at “zero” breakout time to build a nuclear weapon.
The president immediately added that this is one of the reasons to seek a deal – to push Iran away from this possibility for as long as possible, and 10 or more years is indeed an eternity in the Middle East. According to Obama, US intelligence estimates hold that Iran today is two-to-three months from the ability to produce a bomb. The deal with world powers, according to US intelligence estimates, would keep Iran’s nuclear breakout capability at a year’s time while it is in effect.
The fear that at the end of such a deal Iran would be closer to a nuclear weapon stems from one of the clauses that has not been agreed upon and which is the subject of dispute between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers. Iran is demanding to continue research and development of advanced centrifuges that will enable it to enrich uranium much more quickly and efficiently – and in doing so to shorten its breakout time to a bomb, if it decides to pursue this path.
The research and development issue is just one aspect upon which the sides disagree.
Just days after the loud applause for the achievement of the framework deal in Lausanne, it has become clear that the two sides have different interpretations of almost every clause. For example, Iran claims that it was promised that sanctions would immediately be lifted when the deal goes into effect. The US claims that the sanctions will be removed gradually, as Iran shows that it is complying with the deal.
The US and its allies speak of intrusive inspection into all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, whereas Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted as saying Tuesday that his country would not allow International Atomic Energy Agency cameras to be placed at the facilities.
It should be noted that cameras are currently in place at the large enrichment facility at Natanz, but the P5+1 and the IAEA are requesting that the deal include more cameras and additional inspection measures, such as cataloging of equipment at all of the Iranian nuclear facilities, including the underground, fortified site at Fordow.
These differences are coming to the surface, because both sides are busy trying to sell the deal to their constituents at home and abroad.
Zarif briefed the Iranian parliament on Tuesday, encountering harsh criticism from opponents who suggested that Iran caved and conceded too much.
While Zarif and the so-called moderate camp, led by President Hassan Rouhani, support the deal, the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard toe a harder line. They don’t have much interest in an agreement that will remove sanctions.
Removal would unburden the Iranian people, but it would also hurt the Guard commanders’ massive profits from the system of fraud they have in place to circumvent the sanctions.
Obama and his aides are also engaged in a difficult campaign to sell the deal with Iran to the US public and also to Israel. Obama must overcome opposition to the deal in Congress, mainly from Republicans, who are being fueled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their common patron, Sheldon Adelson. It is unclear who has the more difficult mission, Obama or Rouhani.
Within this campaign of half-truths, spin, and distortions, only a few truthful statements have been heard.
They have come from Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Ali Akhbar Salehi, who formerly served as foreign minister. Salehi, who took part in the talks in Lausanne, said that Iran could have produced a nuclear bomb in the past, but did not want to do so. He said that Iran did not produce a bomb for religious and ideological reasons.
This is also the view held by most senior experts in the world. Therefore, pushing Iran’s nuclear breakout time back to a year, for a period of more than 10 years, is an important step, even if it entails risks. After all, how can Israel fear what will happen 10 years from now, if its governments and public institutions cannot carry out plans for more than a month or two into the future?