Israel on Wednesday flatly rejected Obama administration explanations and clarifications of the president’s remarks a day earlier, in which he appeared to acknowledge that Iran would be able to break out to the bomb almost immediately when key provisions of the new nuclear deal expire in 13-15 years.
A senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel that “we share his assessment.”
And the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence praised the president for telling “the truth” about “a very bad deal.”
In an interview with NPR, Obama, whose top priority at the moment is to sell the framework deal to critics, was pushing back on the charge that the deal being negotiated by US-led world powers fails to eliminate the risk of Tehran breaking out to the bomb, because it allows Iran to keep enriching uranium. He told NPR that Iran will be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms of enriched uranium — not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material. He then added: “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.”
According to State Department acting spokesperson Marie Harf, Obama “was referring to a scenario in which there was no deal. And if you go back and look at the transcript — I know it’s a little confusing, I spoke to the folks at the White House and read it a few times — it’s my understanding he was referring to — even though it was a little muddled in the words — a scenario in which there was no deal.”
In a briefing Tuesday, Harf noted that some of the restrictions that would be in place during those years have not yet been negotiated. “Part of the negotiations remains what happens to some of those pieces in those further-on years. I don’t have a specific breakout time to put on to those years at this point, but obviously we want as long of a breakout time for as long as possible. So it would not be zero,” Harf said.
Israel, however, rejected this attempt at clarification, with the senior official saying that Israel understood the president to be acknowledging the problematics of the accord.
The official noted, furthermore, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a relentless opponent of the US-backed terms — had highlighted precisely the problem that Obama cited when he addressed both houses of Congress last month.
In that address on March 3, Netanyahu warned: “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade… Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs. Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today… With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal in a matter of weeks… My long-time friend, John Kerry, the secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires… The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, and this with full international legitimacy.”
Ram Ben-Barak, a former senior Mossad official who now heads Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, furthermore, praised Obama for his candor in highlighting aspects of what Ben-Barak called “a very bad deal.
“Barack Obama is evidently an honest man, who clearly is incapable of telling a lie. And therefore he told the truth,” Ben-Barak told Army Radio.
“Ask any American or European official who has been involved in the negotiations, ask him if he thinks that at the end of the process Iran wants nuclear weapons,” Ben-Barak went on. “Ask him in a one-on-one conversation, and he’ll tell you yes, that’s for sure.”