President Obama, we can only hope, reads USA Today. Since most information at odds with his convictions apparently is not related by aides but picked up by perusing the morning paper, that is where the president might learn that his Iran approach is at odds with reality.
Last week USA Today reported that Iran can break out, that is achieve nuclear capacity in less than a month. That means prompt and immediate destruction of their existing program is required:
David Albright, president of the [I]nstitute [for Science and International Securty] and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, said the estimate means that Iran would have to eliminate more than half of its 19,000 centrifuges to extend the time it would take to build a bomb to six months. The Obama administration has said Iran is probably a year away from having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.
This admonition was echoed yesterday by Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director and now a senior fellow at the Kennedy school. In a press conference call he explained: “With a current inventory, with a current 20% enriched uranium, uranium hexafluoride which Iran has, assuming that they don’t need to do any major changes to their process — for the enrichment process, which I believe is true — they can turn it into one equivalent of nuclear weapon feed material in one month time. That’s a fact.” With certain adjustments Heinonen thinks the time period can be reduced to two weeks.
And he directly rebuts, as has former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a popular misconception about Iran’s nuclear program:
Very often, I hear scholars talking about medium-enriched uranium when they talk about 20% enriched uranium. It’s not really the case, because this is not the cup half full or the cup half empty, it’s a cup 90% full because you need only to do that tiny small additional 10% away for it to produce highly enriched uranium. And, unfortunately with the low-enriched uranium, it feels a little bit the same, and that’s why I understand the concerns of [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. Because once you have produced 3.5% or 5% uranium, which is typically used in light-water reactors and which Iran has now quite a bit stock over there, almost 7 metric tons of that material. Actually you have done something like 60% of the effort you need to do in order to produce weapons-grade uranium. So, even this one is already a little bit more than a cup half full.
All of this suggests it is in essence already too late to prevent a nuclear weapons capability; we must insist the existing one be dismantled. Talk about slowing Iranian progress or halting progress is too little, too late.
Not coincidentally, I imagine, former administration adviser Dennis Ross, former undersecretary of defense policy Eric Edelman and Michael Makovsky, another former defense official and now chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, write that Iran “offered no concessions, leaving serious questions about Iranian purposes. With another round of talks scheduled for next week, U.S. negotiators would do well to follow principles that signify the core interests at stake. The most pressing national security threat facing the United States remains preventing a nuclear-capable Iran. The preferred way to achieve that objective is through a diplomatic agreement. But diplomacy can only be that — a means to an end.”
In an obvious attempt to push back against the President Obama/Wendy Sherman rush to a deal, any deal, the trio explain that any viable deal must include adherence to international legal requirements, renunciation of the right to nuclear fuel enrichment and a comprehensive inspections program. “This will require limits on size and enrichment level of its uranium stockpile, number and type of operating and installed centrifuges, design of enrichment facilities and possible plutonium production at the Arak heavy-water reactor,” they warn. Ross, who served this president, is plainly concerned that not everyone understands what is at issue. He and his colleagues directly rebut the administration’s call not to pass additional sanctions:
The success of these talks will hinge on Iran understanding that there will be very real and damaging consequences if negotiations fail.
This will require at least these U.S. actions: Intensify sanctions and incentivize other countries to do the same, issue more forceful and credible statements that all options are on the table, initiate new military deployments and make clear the support for Israeli military action if conducted.
This administration, we know, does not agree, and that should gravely concern the American people. Understand that while Obama “engaged” and slow-walked sanctions, Iran developed a breakout capacity that is far shorter than the time within which inspectors could (if even possible) discover what had occurred, report back to the “international community” and spur action, which at that point would have to be military action. We know all that isn’t going to happen. So who let Iran go nuclear? President Obama.
The last chance short of military action for dismantling what has already been achieved requires sanctions to be tightened, something the Obama team opposes. It is almost like they’ve resigned themselves to containment of a nuclear-armed Iran.