U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that 13 to 15 years after the nuclear agreement with Iran goes into effect, the Islamic Republic's breakout time to acquire enough fissile material for an atomic bomb could be close to zero.
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In an interview with NPR, Obama explained that the reason for this very short timeframe is the advanced centrifuges Iran would have developed by then, which would allow it to enrich uranium at a significantly faster pace. "Currently, the breakout times are only about two to three months by our intelligence estimates," Obama said. "So essentially, we're purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years of assurances that the breakout is at least a year."
The president added that if the Iranians violate the deal and decide to expel the UN inspectors and "go for a bomb," the U.S. and the international community would have more than a year to respond. "And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter," he said, but added that "at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves. We have much more insight into their capabilities [as a result of tight inspections during the deal]. And the option of a future president to take action if in fact they try to obtain a nuclear weapon is undiminished."
Regarding criticism leveled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who said no nuclear deal should be signed with Iran as long as it continues to support terrorism and engage in subversive activities in the region – Obama stressed that the nuclear agreement could strengthen the moderate forces in Iran and effect internal change. Obama made clear, however, that even if such a change does not take place, a deal is better than no deal.
Obama also rejected Netanyahu's claims that further sanctions on Iran will result in a better agreement, saying such steps would only play into the hands of Iranian extremists. According to Obama, removing the sanctions would not grant the Iranians immediate access to all of their frozen funds around the world, but would bring about gradual economic improvement in the country. Even in the midst of sanctions, he said, "there's been no lessening of [the Iranians'] support of Hezbollah or Assad." On the other hand, said Obama, if Iran "engaged in international business, and there are foreign investors, and their economy becomes more integrated with the world economy, then in many ways it makes it harder for them to engage in behaviors that are contrary to international norms."
The president claimed that though the demand that Iran recognizes Israel is a logical one, Netanyahu's insistence to make it a condition for a nuclear deal would mean that an agreement would not be signed until the Iranian regime changes. "That is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment," he said. "We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can't bank on the nature of the regime changing."
In a message to the Israeli people, Obama stressed that suspicion of Iran is justified. "We have to make sure that Israel has the capabilities to protect itself not only from Iran, but also proxies like Hezbollah," he said. "Iran is deterrable not just because of Israel's superior military and intelligence capabilities but also because you got a really strong ally in the United States of America."
Zarif aims to counter 'American lies'
Meanwhile, at a closed-door briefing before the Iranian parliament on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his office will distribute in the coming days a "fact sheet" that will include Iran's version of the "framework agreement" with the West. Zarif was quoted by Iranian lawmakers who were present at the meeting and who gave interviews to Iranian media outlets.
Seyyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Iranian parliament, said that the "fact sheet" will be distributed because a similar document was released by the U.S. administration shortly after the talks concluded in Lausanne last Thursday.
The Iranians claim that the American "fact sheet" conveyed a distorted version of the understandings between the sides. "Zarif told us that the Foreign Ministry didn't intend to distribute such a document but decided to do so following the American lies," Naqavi said.
Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imenabadi, another member of parliament who was present at the meeting, said Zarif made clear that Iran would not agree to the world powers' demand to install cameras at the nuclear sites and broadcast a live feed as part of inspections. According to the lawmaker, Zarif said the cameras may endanger the lives of Iran's nuclear scientists, some of whom have been assassinated.
“Zarif has also told the westerners that Iran could make atomic bombs any time it chooses,” Imenabadi said. "But he added that he told the Western countries "that Iran is not building atomic bombs not because of pressures and sanctions but because of the religious decree issued by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatolah Ali Khamenei."