Feb 9, 2022 - World

Israel puts Iran nuclear breakout time at 4–6 months with deal

Illustration of a nuclear warning as a clock face

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Israeli government experts believe that a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran will set the amount of time Tehran needs to produce the amount of highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear bomb to four to six months, a senior Israeli official told me.

Why it matters: This assessment is shorter than the six to nine month breakout time the Biden administration experts calculated, per two Israeli officials familiar with strategic consultations between the U.S. and Israel.

The big picture: The standard set by the 2015 nuclear deal was one year breakout time.

  • But Iran’s nuclear advances since the Trump administration withdrew from the deal made this standard irrelevant.
  • U.S. and Israeli officials say that Iran’s current breakout time — without a deal in place — is only about five weeks.

Behind the scenes: The six to nine month breakout time assessment by the Biden administration was relayed to Israeli officials during video strategic consultations two weeks ago, Israeli officials told me.

  • During the consultations with the U.S., Israeli officials learned that a renewed nuclear deal will not include destroying Iranian advanced centrifuges, which they were not allowed to use according to the 2015 agreement.
  • A senior Israeli official said a renewed deal will only include the storage of these advanced centrifuges in Iran under an International Atomic Energy Agency seal. Israeli officials fear this will allow Iran to resume using those centrifuges on a very short order.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson declined to detail the strategic consultations between the U.S. and Israel, which he said were meant to exchange views and trade ideas confidentially.

  • “We will not negotiate in the press or comment on specific claims about the negotiations," a State Department spokesperson said.

What to watch: The Vienna nuclear talks, which resumed yesterday, have reached a critical point, with U.S. officials saying Iran must make "tough" decisions now or face an escalating crisis.

  • Rob Malley, the U.S. envoy for Iran, is in Vienna but continues to engage in indirect talks with the Iranians through European mediators.
  • The talks are expected to continue through at least next week. It’s unclear whether a breakthrough can be achieved.

Go deeper: Inside the Biden-Bennett call on Iran

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