U.S. and Iranian officials have described last week's framework for a deal to slow Iran's nuclear weapons program with disturbingly different details. According to a Times of Israel report Tuesday, the U.S. account also differs significantly with a key ally – France.
The proposed deal lets Iran continue to develop use advanced centrifuges which could allow for uranium enrichment as much as 20 times faster than the Islamic Republic's current technology. After 12 years, Iran can actually resume enriching uranium, which the newspaper reported "would enable Iran to more rapidly accumulate the highly enriched uranium needed to build nuclear weapons, accelerating its breakout time to the bomb." The source is an internal French government fact-sheet which the newspaper was able to review, but which has not been released publicly.
That timeline, however, dovetails with an acknowledgment President Obama made this week in an interview with National Public Radio. Iran's "break-out" time to make a bomb could shrink "almost down to zero" by year 13 after any final deal is negotiated, Obama said.
It's a concern shared by Olli Heinonen, a former senior nuclear proliferation watchdog for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has yet to fully acknowledge the depth of its nuclear weapons program, Heinonen told the Times of Israel. The proposed agreement leaves Iran "a threshold breakout nuclear state for the next 10 years."
That, he predicted, would trigger a regional nuclear arms race that the agreement was supposed to help avoid.
U.S. and Iranian negotiators have until the end of June to hammer out a final agreement.
Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari identified six terms in the proposed agreement in which the United States and Iran have offered different assessments. Among them: Iran believes it stands to secure immediate relief from crippling economic sanctions, while the U.S. says that relief comes in phases as various commitments are met. In addition, Iran believes it can continue to use the Fordo underground uranium enrichment plant for developing centrifuges, while the U.S. says no enrichment could take place there for 15 years.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz briefed reporters Monday on recommendations which could lead to "a more reasonable agreement." The Fordow plant must be shut down entirely, inspectors must be able to make unannounced visits "anywhere, anytime" and development of new centrifuges must be prohibited, he said.
U.S. officials expressed little interest in pushing for those recommendations. "We believe that this is the best deal that can emerge from these negotiations," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told Israeli television.
Read the full interview in which Olli Heinonen details his concerns here.