Israel Says Kerry’s Comments on Iran Nuclear Breakout Time ‘Worrying’

Patrick Goodenough | April 15, 2014 | 4:53am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the E.U.’s Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other participants hold talks over Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva on November 9, 2013. (Photo: State Department)

( – Recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry on Iran’s nuclear “breakout” time -- how long it will take Iran to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon -- have set off alarm bells in Israel, where the government’s strategic affairs minister said Monday they were “worrying” and “unacceptable.”

“We are not opposed to a diplomatic solution [to the Iran nuclear standoff] but we are against a solution which is entirely a surrender to Iran and which leaves it a threshold nuclear state,” Yuval Steinitz told Israel public radio. Israel is arguably the country most threatened by a potential Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

The U.S. and five other powers are about halfway through a six-month period aimed at replacing an interim deal – which granted Iran some sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its nuclear program – with a comprehensive agreement.

When Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a week ago, chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) raised concern about news reports citing administration officials as indicating that earlier goals such as completely dismantling Iran’s uranium enrichment program were no longer seen as achievable, and so the focus should be extending its breakout capability to between six and 12 months.

Menendez noted that new sanctions legislation – which the administration has asked the Senate to put on hold under threat of veto – would require a lead time of at least six months.

“And with no sanctions regime in place – and understanding that every sanction that we have pursued have needed at least a six-month lead time to become enforceable and then a greater amount of time to actually enforce – that the only option left to the United States, to this or any other president, and to the West would be either to accept a nuclear-armed Iran or to have a military option,” he said.

Kerry in his response said it was “public knowledge today that we are operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months. That has been in the public domain.”

(In fact, some expert Iran estimates have the breakout down to as little as one month, although the State Department has called that into question.)

“So six months to 12 months is – I am not saying that is what we would settle for, but even that is significantly more [than current estimates],” Kerry continued.

He then sought to allay concerns about exactly what a nuclear breakout entails.

“Remember, ‘breakout’ means that they make a decision to race, to sort of move out of the regime that has been put in place and overtly move to enrich sufficiently to create enough material for one weapon,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean they have got to a warhead or to a delivery system or even a test capacity or anything else. It’s just having one bomb’s worth, conceivably, of material but without any necessary capacity to put it in anything, to deliver it.”

President Obama has acknowledged that a negotiated deal could leave Iran with a “modest” uranium-enrichment program – but argues that Tehran will be so tightly monitored so as to prevent it from reaching breakout capability.

“If I had an option, if we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and foreswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and, for that matter, got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it,” he said last December, then added, “But that particular option is not available.”

Six U.N. Security Council resolutions between 2006 and 2010 demanded that Iran suspend “all” enrichment.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful energy and research purposes only, but having such a program does not require domestic enrichment: Of 24 non-nuclear weapons countries that have nuclear energy programs, only five apart from Iran enrich at home, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. They are Argentina, Brazil. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

None of the other 18 have domestic enrichment programs, but instead obtain fuel for their reactors from outside, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision. They are Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Mexico, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Ukraine.

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