x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Obama says Iran could cut nuclear time to near zero in 13 years

In Tehran, the chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard praised the work of the country’s nuclear negotiators after they struck a deal with world powers, throwing his weight behind the deal and stepping up the pressure on remaining holdout hardliners.

WASHINGTON // Defending an emerging nuclear deal, president Barack Obama said Iran would be kept a year away from obtaining a nuclear weapon for more than a decade.

However, he conceded on Tuesday that the buffer period could shrink to almost nothing after 13 or more years.

Mr Obama was pushing back on criticism that the deal fails to eliminate the risk because it allows Iran to keep enriching uranium.

He told NPR News on Tuesday that Iran will be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms, which is not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material.

“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,” Mr Obama said.

Breakout time refers to how long it would take to build a bomb if Iran decided to pursue one full-bore.

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.

Although Mr Obama acknowledged that Iran’s breakout time could shrink, he said at least the world would have better insight into Iran’s capabilities because of extensive inspections in the earlier years.

The stark admission came as the president seeks to quiet a growing chorus questioning whether the deal he and world leaders have negotiated merely delays the certainty of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Mr Obama has insisted that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on his watch, which ends in about 20 months.

Tehran has always maintained it does not want a nuclear bomb, but the international community has been sceptical, and America’s close ally Israel considers a nuclear Iran an existential threat.

Meanwhile in Tehran, the chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday praised the work of the country’s nuclear negotiators after they struck a deal with world powers, state television reported.

The comments by Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari were a major endorsement from the Islamic Republic’s most powerful institution.

They came as some 200 hardliners protested in Tehran against the deal in front of the parliament in Tehran as foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif briefed lawmakers in a closed-door session.

Gen Jafari’s endorsement likely will isolate those still opposing the deal further amid the widespread support negotiators have received and may smooth any potential parliamentary vote over it.

Iran’s top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who has the final say on all major issues, including the nuclear programme — has also backed the negotiators, further stepping up the pressure on remaining holdout hardliners.

* Associated Press