Obama warns of 'zero' breakout time without nuclear deal

"Essentially, we're purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year," Obama says in interview.

April 7, 2015 22:27
3 minute read.
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US President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Without a deal, Iran may soon reach a point of technological advancement in its nuclear program for which the world would have no warning should it choose to build a bomb, US President Barack Obama said on Monday.

In an interview with National Public Radio, the president warned of a shrinking “breakout” time – with or without an agreement. But a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran buys the US time and visibility, Obama said, without diminishing its ability to respond militarily should force ever be required.

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“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,” the president said. “Keep in mind, though, currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months by our intelligence estimates.”

“Essentially, we’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year,” he continued.

“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.”

His statements were initially interpreted by media as conceding that the accord signed last week enabled the breakout time to shrink to near zero after the first decade, but clarifications were later issued that said that the president was referring to a scenario without a deal.

Obama sat down with NPR as part of a series of media interviews following the announcement of a political framework agreement with Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week. The agreement was meant to outline the core parameters of a larger, comprehensive nuclear accord, which world powers hope to reach by June 30.

In the same interview, Obama questioned the wisdom of a new condition set forth by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would be required for Israel’s acceptance of a comprehensive deal.

Netanyahu wants Iran to “act like a normal country” before being treated like one by the international community.

That includes its recognition of Israel as a UN-member state, he says.

“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama told NPR.

“That is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment,” he said.

The president’s statement was interpreted by Zionist Union officials as an attack by the president on their leader, Isaac Herzog. They noted that throughout the campaign, Herzog said he would insist on such recognition.

In a February 16 speech to the Institute for National Security Studies, Herzog said he would demand that in any agreement Iran would recognize Israel as a member of the United Nations and make it clear that Iran accepts Israel as part of the family of nations.

Herzog said in the speech that he was surprised that Netanyahu had never issued such a demand from the P5+1 countries negotiating with Iran. After Netanyahu raised the issue for the first time Friday, Ha’aretz editor Aluf Benn wrote that it was a sign that a unity government of the Likud and Zionist Union could be on the way.

“It is a legitimate request that Iran recognize our country and Herzog was right to demand it,” said MK Hilik Bar, Labor’s secretary-general and a speaker at last month’s J-Street conference.

Herzog’s spokesman declined to comment.

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