After a decade of an agreement to curb its nuclear program, Iran will need no time at all to produce an atomic bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Netanyahu spoke just one day after President Barack Obama made a similar statement in an interview with National Public Radio about the framework deal reached in Switzerland last week between Iran and six world powers, including the US.
“Israel shares the view that upon the expiration of the nuclear agreement with Iran [or after the first decade] the latter’s breakout time to achieve nuclear weapons will be zero,” Netanyahu said.
“This will be the inevitable result of the automatic lifting of the restrictions [on its nuclear program], which would enable Iran to achieve an industrial-grade production capability,” he said.
Since the details of the framework agreement became clear, he has spoken out repeatedly against it and urged the six world powers to continue with the sanctions regime, until a better agreement can be reached with Iran.
“The alternative to this bad agreement is not war but a good agreement, which can be achieved. But to do this, we have to stand firm and insist on the terms that will secure the safety of Israel, the region, and the world,” he said in a statement issued while touring the Negev during the Passover holiday.
The US State Department and Israel believe Iran now has a breakout time of two to three months, which is the amount of time it would take for it to be ready to produce a nuclear weapon.
A fact sheet initially put out by the State Department at the end of last week explaining the terms of the deal stated: “That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years, under this framework.”
However, when the fact sheet referred to a one-year breakout, it meant only the first decade of the framework agreement – which is supposed to last for 25 years.
Obama himself told NPR on Tuesday that the breakout time could drop down to zero after 13 to 15 years, due to the easing of some restrictions in the agreement.
“What is a more relevant fear would be that in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero,” Obama said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf almost immediately tried to walk that comment back. She told reporters in Washington that the words were “a little mixed up” and that Obama was in a hypothetical way “referring to a scenario in which there was no deal.”
She herself later linked the one-year breakout time to the first decade of the deal.
“We’ve said, we needed to get to a year breakout – up to – at least a year breakout time for at least 10 years,” Harf said, adding that what happens afterward is still under negotiation.
Obama himself was pretty clear in the interview that he was referencing changes in the deal that would occur at the latest by the 15th year. He put a positive spin on it, by explaining that the deal bought the region a 15-year insurance policy against a nuclear armed Iran.
At that time, he said, the international community would also be in a much better position to combat any effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
“And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter, but at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves. We have much more insight into their capabilities,” Obama said.
A senior US official further clarified on Wednesday that for a 15-year period, Iran would be subject to very strict restrictions.
“For instance, it cannot build new enrichment facilities or increase its enriched uranium stockpile,” the official said. “And inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years – some for 25 years – with others lasting forever.”
But already on Tuesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that the terms of the deal could in fact shorten Iran’s breakout time to less than two or three months, because it would be allowed to continue to do research and development work on advanced centrifuges that would significantly speed up its ability to produce the enriched uranium needed to build an atomic weapon.
Netanyahu has warned about this zero breakout time after the first decade of the agreement since last month, when he spoke against the Iran deal before a joint session of Congress.
During that congressional address he predicted that, after a decade, the breakout time for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon would be zero.
“Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade,” Netanyahu said. “A decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s the blink of an eye in the lives of our children.”
A decade from now, he said, the sanctions against Iran would have been lifted and it would be “free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.”
At that point, he warned, “Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.
“My longtime friend, John Kerry, the secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires,” Netanyahu said.
“Now I want you to think about that,” he told Congress. “The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, and this with full international legitimacy.”