- By William TobeyWilliam Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs was most recently deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration.
In Washington, 10 years is a long time — more than two presidential terms. In the antique land of Persia, however, it is the blink of an eye. Those negotiating a nuclear deal with Tehran need to equal the patience of their Iranian counterparts.
Now the Associated Press reports that under a deal being negotiated in Geneva, the central restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would be phased out after lasting only 10 years. This is almost inconceivable.
Surely no president would accept an agreement with a term shorter than the time it took to negotiate it. Surely no president would trade permanent concessions in return for temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. And surely, no president would put an international seal of approval on an outcome in which Iran could return to a breakout time of two months or less (which was precisely what Secretary of State John Kerry has said the negotiations seek to avoid).
One can only hope that the Associated Press, not the Obama administration, has made a terrible mistake, but the New York Times has already corroborated the story.
The mullahs in Tehran have exhibited nothing but patience in pursuit of their goals. The “students” that held the American embassy hostage for 444 days painstakingly pieced back together diplomatic cables that had been shredded into confetti. Iran fought what was by some estimates the longest conventional war of the 20th century, enduring horrific casualties. Since 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency has struggled against an Iranian stonewall concealing Tehran’s weapons-related activities. And Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has boasted that he bought time for the nuclear program when he was its chief diplomatic defender saying, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan, but we still had a long way to go to complete the project. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan” (where Iran converts yellowcake uranium into gas for enrichment).
In the blink of an eye, we may find Iran as a threshold nuclear weapons state, a bitter outcome made even worse by U.S. acquiescence to it.
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