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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Obama: Iran Could Build Bomb After 13 Years

by VOA News April 07, 2015

President Barack Obama said Iran would be kept at least a year away from being able to build a nuclear weapon for more than a decade due to a framework deal agreed upon last week. However, he conceded Tuesday the buffer period shrinks to almost nothing after 13 or more years.

Obama, defending an emerging deal agreed to by Iran and six world powers, was pushing back against critics' claims that the deal fails to eliminate the risk because it allows Iran to keep enriching uranium.

The president told the American news media organization NPR that Iran's capabilities will be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms - not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material.

Justified concerns could rise in years 13 to 15, Obama said, when Iran could use 'advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.'

Breakout time

Breakout time refers to how long it would take to build a nuclear bomb if Iran decided to pursue one full-bore - in other words, how long the rest of the world would have to stop it. The framework deal expands Iran's breakout time - currently two to three months - to at least a year. But that constraint would stay in place only for 10 years, at which point some restrictions would start phasing out.

The admission comes as Obama seeks to sell the framework deal to critics and quiet a growing chorus questioning whether the deal his administration, along with other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, have negotiated merely delays the certainty of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama has insisted that Iran will not produce a nuclear weapon on his watch, which ends in roughly 20 months, but has made no similar assurances about his successors.

'The option of a future president to take action if in fact they try to obtain a nuclear weapon is undiminished,' he said.

Israeli concerns

Obama also rejected a call by Israel that any final nuclear agreement with Iran include a 'clear and unambiguous Iranian commitment of Israel's right to exist.'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had issued the demand Friday while strongly criticizing the framework nuclear deal reached last Thursday at talks in Switzerland.

In the NPR interview, Obama said, '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. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

'We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can't bank on the nature of the regime changing. That's exactly why we don't want to have nuclear weapons. If, suddenly, Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France, then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure,' he said.

Israel insists the framework nuclear agreement reached last week in Switzerland threatens its survival and Netanyahu has said he would press U.S. lawmakers not to give Tehran 'a free path to the bomb.'

Netanyahu, Congress

In appearances on U.S. television on Sunday, Netanyahu said he has discussed the issue with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress - nearly two-thirds of House of Representatives members and a similar number in the U.S. Senate.

Obama said the framework nuclear deal reached with Iran was a 'good deal' that was reached through 'tough, principled diplomacy.'

The framework deal reached last week is aimed at providing relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbing Tehran's nuclear program. The agreement followed months of intensive talks - the latest round in Lausanne, Switzerland - and sets the stage for a final agreement to be completed by June 30, a deadline the sides have set for themselves.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has vowed that Iran will honor all of its pledges in the agreement 'as long as the other side honors its promises as well.'

Obama also said in the NPR interview released Tuesday that the U.S. and European negotiators are trying to reach a deal with Iran in which sanctions could be reimposed without a U.N. Security Council vote, where Tehran-ally Russia could exercise its veto power.

"We are absolutely convinced we can do it again," Obama said of the international sanctions, which have crippled Iran's economy.

He said a reimposition of sanctions would be triggered if the International Atomic Energy Agency were to find Tehran violating the agreement.

Meanwhile, about 200 Iranian hard-liners rallied against the framework deal struck last week, the official IRNA news agency reported Tuesday.

The rally coincided with a closed session of parliament during which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led Iran's negotiating team at the talks, appeared before lawmakers to explain the agreement.

The gathering of hard-liners took place in front of parliament in Tehran without permission by authorities, IRNA reported. Protesters carried banners calling the agreement a "defeat" - despite the establishment's overwhelming support of the framework deal, including by Rouhani.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.

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