About Us






Saturday, February 14, 2015
Dore Gold: Anatomy of a Bad Iran Deal: A Preliminary Assessment

February 12, 2015
Anatomy of a Bad Iran Deal: A Preliminary Assessment
Dore Gold

The lead editorial of the Washington Post on February 5, 2015, expressed the
growing concern in elite circles with the contours of the emerging nuclear
accord between Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France
and Germany).1 Part of the concern emanates from the change in the goals of
Western negotiators: rather than eliminate Iran’s potential to build nuclear
weapons, they now want to restrict Iranian capabilities, which would leave
Tehran in a position to break out of any restrictions in the future.2

The best way to evaluate the impending nuclear agreement is to look at the
statements of high-levels officials who have been involved in the
negotiations. While not all of the details of the agreement have been made
public, elements have been disclosed in the international media that are
deeply worrying.

For example, there is the issue of the number of centrifuges that Iran will
be allowed to retain. A centrifuge is a machine that separates uranium gas
into two isotopes: U-238, which does not release nuclear energy, and U-235,
which, when split, can release the energy for either a nuclear reactor or an
atomic bomb. The enrichment process involves producing uranium with
increasing percentages of U-235. At 90 percent purity, the uranium is
characterized as weapons-grade.

Iran currently has 19,000 centrifuges, 9,000 of which are running and 10,000
that are installed but not operating. Israel's position is that Iran should
have zero centrifuges. The reason is that if Iran truly needs enriched
uranium for civilian purposes, it could import enriched uranium as do
roughly 15 other countries, such as Canada, Mexico, and Spain. The Israeli
position is in line with six UN Security Council resolutions that were
adopted between 2006 and 2010, with the support of Russia and China. If Iran
eliminated all of its centrifuges and then chose to build new centrifuges,
the process would take four to five years. There would be ample time to
detect Iran's efforts to enrich uranium beyond what is needed for civilian
purposes and to organize an international response.

According to Gary Samore, President Obama’s former non-proliferation
adviser, at the beginning of the current round of negotiations, the United
States was demanding that Iran significantly reduce its stock of centrifuges
to 1,500, but in doing so dropped the longstanding U.S. policy that Iran
eliminate its centrifuges completely.3

The numbers are important. In a scenario of "breakout,” in which the
Iranians race to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for their first atomic
bomb, the number of centrifuges largely determines the amount of time the
Iranians will need to accomplish this goal.

In addition to the number of centrifuges that Iran has, there is also the
issue of the amount of enriched uranium that Iran has already stockpiled.
With enough low-enriched uranium, Iran can make a final push to
weapons-grade uranium for an atomic bomb. Robert Einhorn, the former special
advisor for nonproliferation and arms control during the Obama
administration, has calculated that if Iran uses 1,500 kilograms of
low-enriched uranium and inserts it into 2,000 centrifuges, Iran will have
one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium in 12 to 14 months.4

But from what we know today about the impending nuclear deal, Iran will need
much less time to "breakout" to a bomb. According to multiple press reports,
Western negotiators have raised the ceiling for the number of centrifuges
that Iran will be allowed to have: they have gone from 1,500 to 4,500, and
they now appear to be ready to let the Iranians have 6,000 centrifuges.5
According to Einhorn’s calculations mentioned above, with 1,500 kilograms of
enriched uranium and 6,000 centrifuges, Iran can produce enough
weapons-grade uranium for an atomic bomb in six months.6

David Albright, formerly with the International Atomic Energy Agency, has
estimated that with just 2,000-4,000 centrifuges Iran could achieve
"breakout" in six months.7 Others suggest that the breakout timeline is even
less than six months. For example, Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the
House Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned that on the basis of expert
testimony given to his committee, should Iran be permitted to keep just
4,000 centrifuges, it would have a breakout time of only three months.8

There are other factors that can shorten this breakout time even more. Iran
has second-generation IR-2 centrifuges that are more sophisticated and
powerful which have not been activated yet. The IR-5, with an even higher
rate of enrichment, is in advanced stages of research and was already tested
last fall.9 If these advanced centrifuges are activated, the Iranian
breakout time will be cut precipitously.

Albright concluded that a six-month breakout time would be the minimum
needed to allow for an effective international response – presumably
U.S.-led – to an Iranian violation. Thus, the 6,000 centrifuge limit that
the P5+1 negotiators are presently proposing will not allow sufficient time
to respond to an Iranian breakout.

However, if the Obama administration decides to proceed, countries in the
Middle East are likely to conclude that under these conditions, the United
States has reached a bad agreement with Iran. The evaluation here is largely
based on the number of centrifuges the agreement allows.

There are other dimensions to the nuclear deal with Iran that are no less
important. Dennis Ross, who also served in the Obama administration and
worked on the Iran file, co-authored an article on Jan. 23 expressing
similar concerns. "During the course of the nuclear negotiations over the
past year, Iran has been the beneficiary of a generous catalogue of
concessions from the West," Ross wrote. "The 5-plus-1 has conceded to
Iranian enrichment, agreed that Tehran need not scale back the number of its
centrifuges significantly or dismantle any facilities and could have an
industrial-size program after passage of a period of time."10

Undoubtedly, other countries in the Middle East will react to these
concessions by accelerating their own nuclear programs. It was not
surprising to see the news report on Feb. 10 that Egypt was to procure a new
nuclear reactor from Russia.11 Nuclear proliferation is likely to spread to
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and others. A multipolar Middle East, which
is currently facing a radical Islamist wave, will have none of the stability
of the East-West balance during the Cold War. A bad agreement with Iran, in
short, will leave the world a much more dangerous place.

* * *

1 "The Emerging Iran Nuclear Deal Raises Major Concerns,” Washington Post,
Editorial, Feb. 5, 2014,
2 Ibid.
3 "Can Iran and the United States Make a Meaningful Deal?” Council on
Foreign Relations, Oct. 9, 2014,
4 Robert J. Einhorn, "Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Requirements for a
Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement,” Brookings Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation Series, Paper 10, March 2014,
5 Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. Lays Out Limits It Seeks in Iran Nuclear Talks,”
New York Times, Nov. 20, 2014,
and Paul Richter and Ramin Mostaghim, "Iranian Website Reports U.S. Giving
Ground on Nuclear Centrifuges," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 2014,
6 Ibid.
7 David Albright, Olli Heinonen, and Andrea Stricker, "Five Compromises to
Avoid in a Comprehensive Agreement with Iran,” Institute for Science and
International Security, June 3, 2014,
8 "Assessing a ‘Comprehensive’ Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Five Issues to
Watch,” House Committee on Foreign Affairs,
9 Michelle Moghtader and Fredrik Dahl, "Iran Says Centrifuge Testing, but No
Violation of Atom Deal with Powers,” Reuters, Nov. 12, 2014,
10 Dennis Ross, Eric Edelman and Ray Takeyh, "Time to Take It to Iran: The
Stalemate over Nukes, and Now a Tehran-Backed Coup in Yemen, Show that Obama
Isn’t Tough Enough,” Politico, Jan. 23, 2015,
11 "Cairo, Moscow to Build 1st Nuclear Plant in Egypt," Al Arabiya, Feb. 10,
The writer, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, is president of the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and served as an external advisor to the
office of the Prime Minister of Israel. He is the author of the best-selling
books: The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of
the Holy City (Regnery, 2007), and The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran
Defies the West (Regnery, 2009).

Search For An Article


Contact Us

POB 982 Kfar Sava
Tel 972-9-7604719
Fax 972-3-7255730
email:imra@netvision.net.il IMRA is now also on Twitter

image004.jpg (8687 bytes)