Iran Negotiations Cannot be Based on “Breakout” Alone
By Laicie Heeley & Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard
Negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran have agreed on four more months, beyond the original July 20 deadline, to ensure that they are able to negotiate the best deal on Iran’s nuclear program. But some of the toughest issues remain unresolved. Key among them is the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to maintain. Recently, Iran indicated that it might be able to come down from its original demand of 100,000; but even at 50,000, a large gap would remain between that and the few thousand centrifuges the P5+1 would like to see. Ultimately, the two sides will have to come to a compromise on many technical issues; if and when they do, we should remember that the comprehensive deal should be considered in its entirety, rather than as disparate pieces. The number of centrifuges Iran is left with will not, in itself, determine the international community’s ability counter an Iranian nuclear weapon. Rather, one must take into account a variety of factors including Iran’s nuclear capability, monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities, and the ability of the U.S. military to react to any move toward a bomb.
In recent weeks and months, one phrase has begun to dominate the conversation among lawmakers and analysts in Washington: breakout capacity. This refers to the time it would take to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon, and the quantification has in many cases been used to define the success of a nuclear deal. On the surface this makes sense. The longer it would hypothetically take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, the better, right? But while a deal will ultimately include a variety of constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, it is rare to hear a baseline measure of success set anywhere other than “breakout.”
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