US President Barack Obama (R) and Defense Secretary Ash Carter meet at the Pentagon.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO / PETE SOUZA)
Critics of last year’s landmark nuclear deal with Iran feel emboldened this week after two new UN reports seemed to reinforce their fears over weaknesses in the accord.
The first report, leaked to the Associated Press, reveals Iran’s plan to substantially and with haste expand its uranium enrichment program in ten years time. Lawfully under the deal, Iran will be allowed to increase the size and efficiency of that program once restrictions on the number and model of uranium-enriching centrifuges are lifted.
The document, submitted by Iran to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, outlines its plan to install thousands of state of the art centrifuges that would theoretically allow Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – should it choose to do so, in violation of the accord – within months.
The plan is “a matter of pride,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Tuesday, confirming the authenticity of the report.
“The breakout time does not go off a cliff nor do we believe that it would be cut in half, to six months, by year 11,” pushed back Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the State Department, on Monday.
“The prohibition on Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon – and our ability to monitor the peaceful nature of its nuclear program – remains in effect indefinitely.”
The Obama administration argues that, without the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would today be so large and unrestricted that its “breakout time” to enriching weapons-grade fissile material would already clock in at a month or less.
Critics say the nuclear deal has legitimized a process that had once been shunned – Iran’s strategic leveraging of the enrichment cycle, to threaten the international community.
A second report from the UN secretary-general drew ire from the US and Iran alike, as well as from Russia, for allegedly stepping out of the bounds of his office’s mandate.
Briefing the UN Security Council on Ban Ki-moon’s first bi-annual report on the JCPOA’s implementation, UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman touched on topics sensitive to both sides: Tehran’s continued ballistic missile activity – barely addressed in the nuclear accord, but under continued sanction at the UN under different resolutions – and the pace of US sanctions relief.
“The United States disagrees strongly with elements of this report, including that its content goes beyond the appropriate scope. We understand that Iran also disagrees strongly with parts of the report,” Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, told the council.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the report contained factual errors, and headings in the report referring to “restrictions” on Iranian ballistic missile activities “simply don’t coincide with the subject of the report.”
“Some of the provisions of the secretary-general’s report have no relation to his mandate, nor to the terms of reference of (the UN) resolution or the (nuclear deal),” Churkin said.
A senior Israeli official said in response to the reports that Israel’s greatest concern about the nuclear deal with Iran was and remains that after 10 years “it will leave Iran with an industrial uranium enrichment capacity that would enable the regime to produce the fuel for many nuclear bombs in a very short time.”
According to the official, the deal removes certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based not on changing its aggressive behavior – including worldwide support of terrorism – but rather according to certain dates on the calendar.
“The deal doesn’t solve the Iranian nuclear problem, but rather delays and intensifies it,” the official said.
Netanyahu expanded on this theme during a speech in the Knesset marking the 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. Iran’s regional aggression, he said, is backed by its “continued yearning to develop a nuclear capacity, even if only later.”
Netanyahu stressed that Israel “will not accept a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands,” adding that it will also not allow Iran to open up additional fronts against Israel, such as on the Golan Heights.
“Our red lines are clear,” he said. “We acted and will continue to act to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Anyone who thinks they can “spill our blood without a response is making a very bad mistake,” he said. “And these are not only words, but actions repeated time and time again to back up our red lines.”
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