p5 1


In 2013, as more people than ever sought their news through social media, the State Department expanded its digital engagement.  Our goal was, and remains, to find ways to give you more access to foreign affairs information and more opportunities to offer your opinions. Check out 13 stories, as told through social media, that shaped our world this year, and tell us what you think were the most significant foreign affairs events in 2013. 

Obama promises to veto new sanctions on Iran

President Obama has sworn to veto any new sanctions imposed on Iran, stating that the likelihood of discussions collapsing will be very high if the US persists with its implementation.

Obama has been encouraging both Democrats and Republicans to hold back while negotiations are still taking place.

However, he reiterated that he was not suggesting that there would be any ‘war footing,’ should negotiations with Iran be unsuccessful.

The Key to Nuclear Negotiations with Iran is Respecting Cultural Pride

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sat down with Fareed Zakaria on Sunday and declared “Iran is a proud nation. We believe we have the technological capability… [and] the human resources in order to stand on our own feet.”

Western experts have also picked up on the importance of this pride factor in our dealings with Iran. Robin Wright, a journalist and Atlantic contributor who has written extensively about Iran, said at a recent Brookings panel, “the best way to understand Persians is to think of the most chauvinistic Texan you know and add 5,000 years [of history] and then you begin to understand just how proud they are.” 

The Iranian government has harnessed this powerful sense of nationalism to shore up greater domestic legitimacy. From a common bank note showing an image of an atom superimposed over a map of Iran, to signs in Tehran that boast of the country’s nuclear achievements, this “pride investment” is hard to miss.

One reason the government can’t roll back its nuclear projects now is that it has already invested so much capital (both political and financial) into the program. Therefore, a successful deal between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany) and Iran will have to not only reassure Western audiences about Iran’s intentions, but also come off as a victory for Iran’s domestic audience.

Read more. [Image: Adrees Latif/Reuters]


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P5+1 foreign ministers, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif conclude negotiations about Iran’s nuclear capabilities at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, November 24, 2013. View more photos from the talks in Geneva, and read about the first step understandings regarding Iran’s nuclear program. [State Department photos/ Public Domain]

Not All Israelis Are Furious About the Iran Deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made headlines by condemning this weekend’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers as a “historic mistake,” and some fellow leaders have been even harsher. “If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, declared on Sunday. According to a poll commissioned by the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, three-fourths of Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis don’t believe Iran will halt its nuclear program as a result of the accord, which places limits on the Iranian program over the next six months in exchange for sanctions relief.

But not all Israelis are opposed to the deal. Israeli leaders like President Shimon Peres and former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin have expressed cautious optimism about the diplomatic breakthrough, and some in the press have thrown their support behind the initiative as well, including some prominent commentators for Channel 2, Israel’s most-watched television network.

Read more. [Image: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Netanyahu to visiting congressmen: Stopping Iran is not a Democrat or Republican issue - PM meets with North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger and Florida's Dennis A. Ross - 17 February 2015

Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but rather an Israeli, American and global issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told two visiting Republican congressman on Tuesday.
“We believe that the current proposal before Iran, handed over by the P5+1, is very dangerous to Israel and dangerous to the region and the peace of the world,” he told North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger and Florida’s Dennis A. Ross.
Relating to the friction his planned speech in March to Congress has created, Netanyahu said that the Israeli-US alliance is “powerful” and based on common values and interests.
“We appreciate the support of Democrats and Republicans alike,” he said. “We have a great national interest in preventing Iran from acquiring the means to develop nuclear arms.”
He said this was the reason he feels it important to speak to Congress and explain Israel’s position. “There are those who think otherwise,” he said. “I am open to hearing their case, and I would hope that they would extend Israel – the country whose very existence is threatened by Iran – that same courtesy.”

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Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s reasoning makes as little sense as his overall strategy.

Netanyahu is determined to scuttle the imminent deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries over Iran’s development of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. (BTW, P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France—plus Germany.) Netanyahu argues that by signing a 10-year deal, the United States and the other countries are giving Iran de facto permission to construct nuclear weapons when the agreement ends. Netanyahu is convinced that once Iran has a nuclear capability, the first thing it will do is use it on Israel.

There are three major holes in Bibi’s logic:

  1. From what we can tell, the agreement will likely halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons for 10 years, postponing for a generation the possibility of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.
  2. If, after the agreement ends, Iran begins an active program of nuclear weapons development, the United States and other nations can always renew the severe economic sanctions that have been crippling Iran for years.
  3. Tehran is less than 1,000 miles from Tel Aviv, close enough that any nuclear bomb exploded in Israel would poison the Iranian air and water for decades. Those who wonder whether the ultra-religious Muslims in Iran would care should ask the same question of the ultra-religious Christians in the United States, a supposedly secular nation whose secular leaders did drop the atom bomb—twice!

But as illogical as Netanyahu is thinking, his overall strategy is even more absurd. How will giving a speech in front of the U.S. Congress sink the talks? Most observers note that the speech represents a marriage of convenience between Republicans, who want to embarrass President Obama, and the Israeli Prime Minister, who thinks the speech will win him votes in the upcoming Israeli elections. In the short term, this strategy is risky, and in the long term it is doomed to failure. His planned speech gives the growing number of American Jews uncomfortable with Israel’s actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians another reason to unite, funnel money to Israeli progressives and jawbone their elected officials. It pisses off many in the United States, already uncomfortable with Netanyahu’s support of additional West Bank settlements. And it worsens his relationship with the head of the country that protects Israel and shtups it with $3.1 billion in military aid every year.

President Obama and others have objected to Netanyahu’s speech before Congress because it comes too close to the Israeli elections and therefore goes against the American tradition of not appearing to interfere in foreign elections. In breaking this tradition, with whom has Netanyahu gone to bed? The American right, which before Reagan had a long history of overt anti-Semitism and still has its share of racists and Jew-haters.

Joining with Republicans to embarrass a Democratic president really has to make a lot of Jewish Senators and Representatives who are Democrats pretty unhappy; even the most militaristic of them may now listen a little more carefully to the arguments of those who want to apply more pressure on Israel to stop building more settlements in the West Bank and finally negotiate a two-state solution. Of course Netanyahu’s insult to the president must please all those Jewish Republicans in Congress—oops, there’s only one!

We haven’t come to the big strategic question—how could Israel possibly be against rapprochement with Iran? What could Israel possibly lose by bringing Iran back into the stable of nations dedicated to peace? Who benefits from the current state of affairs in the Middle East? Of course the Israeli and Jewish equivalents of Islamic and Christian extremists get to keep the status quo, which is helpful to their side. And Israeli and American arms manufacturers certainly benefit from continued tensions, as they will be able to sell more guns, bullets, tanks and aircraft. The status quo suits these groups and their political factotum Netanyahu just fine.

Thus the only way to understand Netanyahu’s campaign to upset the negotiations with Iran as reasoned action is to conclude the he is an ardent supporter of the current instability in the Middle East. And that makes him a warmonger. We can only hope that Israeli voters realize Netanyahu’s way leads to more bloodshed and vote him out of office on March 17.


By Masoud Rezaei*

As time goes by, relations between Iran and China are changing, so that, during upcoming months, political and economic ties between the two countries may take a new course different from the past. Just recently, Ali Akbar Velayati, President of Iranian Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research, said Chinese President Xi Jinping, is expected to visit Iran in the near future. The visit will be a sign of Beijing’s determination to engage more closely with Iran following the conclusion of a final deal over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Now, assuming that the final nuclear deal is signed between Iran and the member states of the P5+1 group of countries as expected, the result will be cancellation of certain sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council on Iran. It goes without saying that Iran will be offered with a wide variety of opportunities when such an agreement is signed. Therefore, it is not difficult to guess that such a visit at this level will be probably planned in a way that Xi Jinping will visit Iran soon following the conclusion of the final deal over Iran’s nuclear program in order to outdo European rivals in taking advantage of the new opportunities in Iran.

Generally speaking, a final nuclear deal will be of high importance to Iran in regional and international terms in view of its economic advantages and due to the expansion that it will bring to the volume of trade between Tehran and Beijing. But apart from that, such an agreement will come with remarkable strategic and geopolitical considerations, which will cover a wide region from the Persian Gulf all the way east to the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca in addition to the entire length of the Silk Road and Central Asia. China is well aware of this issue because this is a reality which is also closely related to the role and position of the United States, as an undeniable actor both on regional and international levels. This issue has raised many questions. For example, will the balance of power between China and the United States change following a final nuclear deal and reduction of tensions between Iran and the West? Or will such a deal give Iran more latitude in international arena, so that, due to its economic interests in the region, China will have to opt for a more pragmatic foreign and security policy with regard to Iran? At present, it is not very easy to answer any of these questions.

China has always looked upon Iran as a political and strategic heavyweight at the heart of the Middle East. However, following the election of the new Iranian administration and the different approach taken by Iran to nuclear talks with the P5+1 group of countries, which led to the conclusion of an interim deal between the two sides in November 2013, legitimacy of international relations between Iran and China has been further increased. Therefore, subsequent to a final agreement, the cost of developing political, economic and defense relations with the new Iran will be greatly reduced for Beijing in the light of increased cooperation between Iran and the West. On the other hand, however, China will have to sustain new costs for drawing the attention of the new Iran in the region.

It should be noted that Chinese officials and analysts have always considered Iran as leverage for effective bargaining in the face of the United States. Therefore, Beijing is still willing for conditions to continue along the same lines following a final agreement so that China would be able to continue taking advantage of this bargaining chip. As a result, it would not be very easy for China to come to terms with an Iran which is to move toward removal of tensions with the West, especially the United States. The issue that will make this more important is the emergence of China as a major strategic challenge to the United States, which will require more attention from Washington. Therefore, the turn by the US President Barack Obama’s administration toward the East in a bid to contain the growing clout of China by 2016 has been stirring serious security concerns in China with respect to the country’s future policies. In the meantime, Iran can play a determining role in this regard. Any positive signal exchanged between Iran and the West and further closeness between Tehran and Washington can greatly boost Iran’s bargaining power in its relations with China. On the other hand, if Obama pulls off new relations between the United States and Iran with the goal of increasing stability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf regions, he will have more time to pay more attention to Eastern Asia, especially China. This is one of those issues that are currently nagging China as Beijing wonders what may happen subsequent to a final nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries. China is willing for the United States to continue to grapple with a problem called Iran in the Persian Gulf. Otherwise, Beijing will have to give more tangible and real concessions to Tehran in order for the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue its alliance with China and to allow China to take advantage of the geographical position of Iran.

Therefore, on the one hand, China will have to pay a price for attracting Iran’s attention in order to be able to continue using the country as a means of boosting its own global influence and strategic clout in international issues. On the other hand, a final agreement will give Iran more maneuvering room in order to send calculated signals to the West. In this way, Iran will be able to bring new balance to its relations with China in such areas as economy, as well as in security and defense interactions. Therefore, when Iran is out of its current dire economic straits, China will not be able, as it has been in the past, to play its double role with regard to the Islamic Republic. As a result, “active pragmatism will turn into the most salient feature of China’s diplomatic approach to Iran and Beijing may even have to take more strategic and political measures with regard to the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] in order to regulate its relations with Iran. Of course, the (P)GCC has continuously defined its identity in relation to its cooperation with the West.

*Masoud Rezaei
Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies


By Gary C. Gambill*

US Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly pledged that the prospective nuclear agreement being hammered out between the P5+1 world powers and Iran will extend the Islamic Republic’s “breakout time” – how quickly it can produce sufficient fissile material for an atomic bomb should it make a rush to build one – from “about two months” to “a minimum of a year.”[1]  While U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about details of the talks, this seemingly tangible metric is clearly going to be the big selling point when Kerry seeks to win support for an agreement from a skeptical Congress.

Kerry gets his numbers by calculating how long it would take Iran to produce a bomb’s worth (around 25 kg) of weapons grade uranium (WGU) given the number and types of centrifuges it currently has installed (18,458 first generation IR-1s and 1008 IR-2s) and operating (around 10,180 IR-1s) at its two enrichment plants,[2] and the amount of under 5% low enriched uranium (LEU) it has on hand to use as feedstock.  Cap these variables at whatever levels are needed to lift the other side of the equation to a year, put in place an augmented inspections regime to make sure Iran isn’t cheating, and voila … ten months back on the clock.

Well, not exactly.  A multitude of “ifs”, “ands”, and “buts” render Kerry’s pledge all but meaningless.

There is No Clock
While nominal breakout time,[3] a simple function of overall enrichment capacity and available feedstock, is convenient shorthand for a country’s ability to produce a weapon, it isn’t a meaningful threshold in a real-world breakout attempt. Producing one bomb’s worth of WGU – what the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) terms a significant quantity (SQ)[4] – wouldn’t be much of an achievement, as the Iranians can’t put it on a warhead (assuming they’ve designed one) without first conducting a nuclear test (lest no one believe they’ve split the atom), while carrying out a test without having stockpiled enough material for at least one weapon would announce their aggressive intentions to the world without simultaneously acquiring a nuclear deterrent.  To be sure, an Iranian dash to produce one SQ of WGU would be a proliferation threat, but that doesn’t mean it would make sense for the Iranians (unless their objective is to deliberately provoke military intervention).

Iran’s effective breakout time[5] – to enrich enough WGU to be reasonably certain of ending up with a deployable nuke – depends on how certain the Iranians want to be.

Two bomb-loads of WGU would be sufficient to acquire a modicum of nuclear deterrence only if the test is successful, but that’s hardly a sure thing (North Korea had two failed tests in a row, albeit with plutonium bombs).  Even three would be a crapshoot given Iran’s poor track record of getting things right the first time around in its nuclear program.

This is an important distinction because the Obama administration’s public rationale for accepting an inferior deal feeds off of the common misconception that Iran is eight weeks away from a nuclear weapon (almost anything looks better than that). The Iranians are portrayed as too close to the finish line to be pushed or prodded most of the way back.  Press too hard, Kerry has suggested, and Iran might “rush towards a nuclear weapon.”[6]   In fact, it’s not too late for the international community to deny Iran a viable chance of succeeding in a future breakout attempt.

Untested “Disablement”
Kerry’s post-agreement breakout time calculations assume that Iran does not bring more centrifuges into operation for a whole year after kicking out inspectors and beginning its sprint for a nuke.  Dismantling the large majority of Iranian centrifuges that fall outside of the agreed-upon quota could ensure this, but Iran has long insisted that it will never destroy any of them.  Instead, the White House is proposing that excess centrifuges and associated equipment merely be disconnected, removed to IAEA-monitored storage offsite, and disabled in some way that cannot be quickly reversed (but without removing components that would render them permanently inoperable).[7]

Although U.S. nuclear scientists are said to have studied a range of technical measures designed to make the process of reconnecting centrifuge cascades and piping more time-consuming, “disablement” is not an exact science.  The only real-world application of such measures thus far was in North Korea, which “was able to reverse many of these steps faster than expected,” according to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).[8] In the case of Iran, analysts at ISIS were unable to identify even a hypothetical disablement process that would take more than six months to reverse.[9]  Considering that the Iranians would be sure to immediately begin training personnel to reverse the disablement steps, there’s little reason to be confident that such technical speed bumps can prevent a ramp up of Iranian enrichment capacity for an entire year if excess centrifuges are left intact.

Unknown Inventories
Even a perfectly functioning disablement regime won’t suffice unless the international community has an accurate count of Iran’s centrifuges, particularly those it possesses beyond the 19,466 installed at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants.  The latter include around a thousand, non-operating IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz, which have an average enrichment output three to five times greater than the IR-1.[10]  Olli Heinonen, the former deputy chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recently said that Iran could have thousands of additional IR-2m centrifuges, or the components for assembling them, stored outside of these declared facilities.[11]

As Lee Smith has warned,[12] there’s little indication that the Obama administration is demanding the kind of invasive inspection regime that would be needed to verify Iran has no appreciable stockpile of undeclared centrifuges.  Given the administration’s unwillingness to demand full disclosure of past nuclear weapons research,[13] this is unlikely to change.

Limitations of an LEU Cap
Although the Obama administration initially proposed a limit of 1,500 IR-1 centrifuges,[14] it is widely reported to have agreed to let Iran operate somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 6,500 IR-1 centrifuges under the terms of a prospective agreement, and may yet settle for an even higher number.[15]  There are only two ways to produce a nominal breakout time of one year with this many centrifuges running.

The first is to reduce the amount of LEU the Iranians can accumulate at any one time.  LEU, as Frank von Hippel and Alex Glaser put it, is essentially “stored enrichment work.”[16]  Reducing LEU supplies below the roughly 1,000 kg needed to produce one SQ  would lengthen nominal breakout time by forcing the Iranians to enrich some quantity of natural uranium all the way up to WGU.  According to ISIS calculations, for example, 6,000 IR-1 centrifuges and 500 kg of LEU would correspond to a one-year breakout time.

U.S. officials have proposed achieving this by requiring Iran to either convert the LEU normally produced by its centrifuges into an oxide form (unlikely, as this can be reversed in a matter of months) or have it shipped to Russia,[17] in exchange for specialized fuel rods for its Bushehr power plant that cannot easily be weaponized.[18]

The problem with a many-centrifuges-little-LEU cap is that it requires Iran to continuously surrender or reprocess material it already possesses for its extended breakout time to remain constant.  But suppose it simply stopped doing this? If the Iranians were going to attempt a breakout, they would likely begin by “feigning problems in the conversion plant or delays in transporting” the LEU, notes ISIS President David Albright.[19]  By the time it would be unmistakably clear to the outside world that a breakout was underway, they would have substantially exceeded whatever LEU cap is established.  With a few-centrifuges cap, a “creepout” is impossible, as Iran would have to install more centrifuges to narrow its breakout time, not merely fake an industrial accident.

The Iranians could also stop surrendering LEU, while otherwise abiding by a prospective agreement, as a means of wresting additional concessions from the West, calculating that no one will start a war in response to inaction.

Moreover, having a larger number of centrifuges in operation would make it easier for Iran to build centrifuges in secret and hide illicit procurements for a covert facility,[20] particularly if the Obama administration drops the longstanding P5+1 demand for substantial curbs on centrifuge research and development. Iran has built and tested prototypes of advanced centrifuges with even higher enrichment capacities than the IR-2, most notably the IR-8, with an annual SWU capacity anywhere from seven to 16 times that of the IR-1.[21] Because far fewer are required to produce a given output, advanced centrifuges allow for the construction of smaller, harder-to-detect clandestine enrichment facilities.

Limitations of an SWU Cap
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the Iranians have insisted on keeping such a high number of centrifuges in operation that a practical LEU cap alone can’t extend Iran’s nominal breakout time to a year.   In recent months, U.S. officials have warmed to an Iranian proposal to instead cap the net output of its centrifuges, measured in separative work units (SWU).  Several prominent NGOs endorsed an SWU cap last year, including the Arms Control Association and the International Crisis Group.[22]

The Iranians initially proposed that the SWU cap be enforced by reducing the rate of spin on the centrifuges.  But this process can be quickly reversed.[23]

US officials have instead proposed that the SWU cap be enforced by limiting the amount of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas that is fed into the centrifuges.[24]  But this begs the question of how quickly Iran can ramp up production of UF6 once it begins a breakout, and what new, untested disablement regime will be needed to slow this process.  Elaborate mechanisms to limit gas supplies simply cannot provide the same degree of confidence as dismantling the centrifuges they feed into.

Wrong Enrichment Plant
However much the limited centrifuge, LEU, and SWU caps the Obama administration has in mind may extend Iran’s nominal breakout time, this figure won’t mean much in a contested breakout.  Iran isn’t likely to get very far trying to produce fissile material for a bomb at its main Natanz enrichment facility, where all post-agreement enrichment is to be carried out – the site is too vulnerable to outside air strikes that would likely follow such brazen defiance of the international community.[25]

A contested breakout can only succeed at Iran’s smaller Fordow plant, which is buried sufficiently deep underground to likely survive Israeli, perhaps even American, air strikes. This route to the bomb will take longer to achieve than an uncontested breakout at Natanz.  Since Iran has pledged to discontinue industrial enrichment at Fordow once an agreement is signed, it will first have to get centrifuges back up and running, and even then its output will be a fraction that of Natanz.

According to Albright, a full complement of 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow would take about a year to produce a bomb’s worth of WGU using only natural uranium, and “significantly” less if a substantial quantity of LEU is available (which, as underscored above, will likely be the case) or if more advanced centrifuges are available for installation (ditto).[26]  But time doesn’t matter as much when the centrifuges are spinning deep underground.

The more interesting question is how long it takes to restart and ramp up enrichment at Fordow – or at least move centrifuges and other vital equipment inside the subterranean fortress.  That is when the process is most vulnerable to outside disruption.

Naturally, the Iranians are adamant that this timeline be as short as possible.  They have refused to demolish, strip down, or even close the Fordow bunker, insisting that it remain in operation as “research and development and back-up site for Natanz.”[27] After initially insisting that Fordow be shut down completely, the Obama administration has agreed that Iran will merely be required to suspend enrichment and accept unspecified provisions that “constrain the ability to quickly resume enrichment there,” in the words of one senior American official.[28]

But the timeline for stage one of a Fordow-centered breakout is difficult to quantify, let alone delimit, reflecting such myriad factors as the number and competency of Iranian scientists and technicians, how much they’ve drilled, the availability of relevant equipment, etc. – all of which are sure to improve for Iran in the years ahead.

Moreover, Iranian actions during the vulnerable stage of a Fordow breakout aren’t likely to be regarded as a clear casus belli by the international community.  While this path to the bomb can be readily obstructed when centrifuges are being moved back into the facility, simply moving equipment around in violation of treaty isn’t likely to trigger decisive external military intervention.  Just to be sure, Iranian clerics could simultaneously summon thousands of women and children to the site to act as human shields.  Named after a nearby village known for having the largest martyrdom rate during the Iran-Iraq war,[29] Fordow would be ideally suited for such a stunt.

Although details concerning the status of Fordow remain unresolved,[30] it’s clear that the facility will remain operational under a prospective agreement, subject to untested technical provisions to obstruct the rapid resumption of industrial enrichment, and its status as a symbol of Iranian resistance thus formally consecrated.

Time Isn’t Everything
Finally, Kerry’s breakout time argument – and the Obama administration’s Iran counter-proliferation policy as a whole – is predicated on the widespread, but hardly self-evident, assumption that having as much time as possible to stop a future breakout in progress is the touchstone of a “good” agreement.

Kerry may be right that, all else being equal, more “time to act” if Iran reneges and starts racing to enrich WGU is better than less.[31] But how much better?  The U.S. and/or Israel won’t need more than a few weeks to flatten Iran’s enrichment facilities as best they can if it comes to that.

Of course, military intervention isn’t certain to succeed.  The problem with a short breakout time, according to the prevailing conventional wisdom, is that it doesn’t allow for a peaceful, negotiated restoration of the status quo ante (which everyone agrees is a more reliable fix than bunker busters).   “If Iran were to make the decision to make a weapon, military intervention would be the only available response,” explains Albright.[32]

Fair enough.  But why should we expect a diplomatic resolution to be possible in the midst of a breakout attempt?  The assumption that Tehran can be made to have second thoughts after beginning a headlong sprint for the bomb flies in the face of everything we know about the Iranian regime – a product, perhaps, of anti-proliferation specialists accustomed to dealing with mercurial dictators like Moammar Qaddafi and Kim Jong-il.

The challenge is giving the Iranians second thoughts before they begin a breakout. Might not the perception that prompt military intervention will be the only response available to Washington do more to deter an Iranian breakout attempt than the expectation that the international community will have all the time in the world deliberating how to respond and bargaining for Iranian concessions?

Although Kerry has stopped publicly promising a one-year breakout time since negotiators failed to reach an agreement before their self appointed deadline in November, by all accounts it remains a key focus of the U.S.-led negotiating team.[33]

Why this fixation with a number that doesn’t mean anything? Because a one-year nominal breakout time “is what they need to have in order to sell the deal to Congress and U.S. allies,” according to Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction during Obama’s first term.[34]  At this stage in the game, the Obama administration’s red lines in the negotiations have more to do with politics at home than with preventing the Islamic Republic from going nuclear.

Although the administration’s efforts to frame the Iran nuclear debate as foremost a question of how far from the “finish line” Iran is and will be under a prospective nuclear agreement have been fairly successful thus far (critics of its Iran posture who complain that a year is not enough unwittingly play along), the White House is giving short shrift to a host of other factors critical to thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, such as the status of an underground enrichment bunker purpose-built for a contested breakout, the ability of inspectors to fully account for Iranian inventories, and curbs on research and development.  At the end of the day, neither Congress nor American allies are likely to be very impressed when the particulars of the impending nuclear accord become known.

About the author:
*Gary C. Gambill is a frequent contributor to The National Post, FPRI E-Notes, The Jerusalem Post, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest. He is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and was formerly editor of Middle East Intelligence Bulletin and Mideast Monitor.

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz warned Thursday that Israel could act unilaterally against Iran over its nuclear drive, saying Tehran has failed to make concessions in talks with world powers. “We never limited Israel’s right of self-defence because of some diplomatic constraints,” he said. Significant gaps remain between Iran and the P5+1 world powers on specific measures to end a 12-year standoff on Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran denies seeking an atomic bomb and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes.

This article explains how Israeli Intelligence made a statement saying they might have to take unilateral action against Iran, as the negotiations over nuclear development haven’t accomplished what they need to.  The Israeli’s stated that these negotiations haven’t slowed the development process down, so it might be best for them to undertake military actions in order to guarantee Israeli security.  This statement could have major implications for the nuclear negotiations process, as there have already been issues in negotiations.  This has the potential to further stall negotiations if the Iranians feel the need to save face, or even move the process along if Iran fears Israeli retaliation.