(JTA) – U.S. President Barack Obama did not mean to say that the deal on Iran’s nuclear program afforded it a short breakout time within 13 years of signing, U.S. State Department officials clarified.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday that Obama meant to say that not signing the deal would afford Iran the short break out time – a term that refers to the period necessary for reaching offensive nuclear capabilities once the aspiring power decides to do so with as little delay as possible.
Harf’s clarification was about an interview that Obama gave that day to NPR News, the Associated Press reported.
In it, he said: “We’re purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year. And then in years 13 and 14, it is possible that those breakout times would have been much shorter. But at that point we have much better ideas about what it is that their program involves.”
Harf told reporters: “I think his words were a little mixed up there, but what he was referring to was a scenario in which there was no deal.”
Obama’s latest statement on breakout time was characterized in media as an acknowledgement of a weakness in the deal, prompting fresh criticism on it by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who said it was “a direct threat to the peace and security of the region.”
On April 2, the United States and five world powers announced they have reached a framework agreement with Iran which removes some sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for a verifiable scaling back of its nuclear program. Israel has vocally opposed the deal, along with prominent figures from Gulf States.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned it risked making Iran a nuclear threshold state, poised to develop nuclear arms within a short breakout time made possible because under the deal, Iran gets to keep infrastructure for developing such weapons.
Last week, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said Iran already “has a current breakout timeline of two to three months,” which he said “will be expanded to a minimum of a year” under the deal.
On Wednesday, the New York Times published an editorial criticizing Netanyahu’s demand that the final deal include Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
“Mr. Netanyahu is acting as if he alone can dictate the terms of an agreement that took 18 months and involved not just Iran and the United States but Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China,” read the editorial, titled “Israel’s Unworkable Demands on Iran.”
In the NPR interview, Obama also said presenting the demand to Iran would be a “fundamental misjudgment.”