Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he famously presented a placard with a cartoon bomb detailing how far he was willing to let Iran’s nuclear program go.
Netanyahu broke down the process of enriching enough uranium for a nuclear bomb into a three stage process:
“The first stage: they have to enrich enough of low enriched uranium. The second stage: they have to enrich enough medium enriched uranium. And the third stage and final stage: they have to enrich enough high enriched uranium for the first bomb. Where’s Iran? Iran’s completed the first stage. It took them many years, but they completed it and they’re 70% of the way there. Now they are well into the second stage. By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”
The Israeli Prime Minister drew his “red-line” at the 90 percent point, in that Iran would have a large enough stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to enrich further for one nuclear weapon.
While Iran has since slowed its nuclear program, and scaled it back even further since President Hassan Rouhani came to office, the Islamic Republic has still maintained a stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
But that will soon change. The agreement signed by the six world powers (the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany) and Iran on Sunday in Geneva will not only require Iran to eliminate its 20 percent stockpile, but the deal also includes a stringent inspection regime to verify that Tehran complies.
“Before the deal, Iran had enough uranium enriched at lower levels and centrifuges to produce fuel for a weapon — a nuclear breakout — in between one and two months, according to a study by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based group that has been skeptical of Iran’s peaceful claims,” the New York Times reported. “The deal adds time to the process. The time ranges from several weeks to almost a month, according to I.S.I.S.”
Indeed, at the end of this first step agreement, should all parties comply, Iran’s stockpile of medium enriched uranium will be eliminated, thus bringing Iran back to the the first stage of enrichment toward a bomb, according to Netanyahu’s cartoon.
Despite what would seem an obvious victory for Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister called the deal “a historic mistake,” adding, “this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.”
Nuclear nonproliferation experts, and even members of Israel’s security establishment, disagree. “The limits on Iran’s nuclear program are, unequivocally, a major success in reining-in Iran’s nuclear potential and an essential stepping stone toward the negotiation of an even more effective, final agreement,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
“The Geneva agreement is a good deal because Iran’s capabilities in every part of the nuclear program of concern are capped, with strong verification measures,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“If we take Netanyahu at his word from September 2012, he should be delighted by the Geneva Agreement,” Jeffrey Lewis, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and blogger at Arms Control Wonk, told ThinkProgress. “Lately, he’s taking to categorically rejecting ‘partial’ deals, regardless of the content. If it seems like he’s moving the goal-posts, that’s because he is. It’s hard not to conclude that his real opposition is to any lifting of sanctions, even though an indefinite stalemate will probably result in a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Graphic by Andrew Breiner