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Who Cares about an Iranian Nuclear Breakout? Beware of an Atomic ‘Sneak-out’

James Acton, The National Interest 

November 4, 2014


It’s time for America to rethink its strategy for preventing Iran from getting the Bomb. Negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program are foundering on the question of how much enrichment capacity it can be permitted. So far, Tehran has refused to dismantle any of the 19,000 or so centrifuges it has installed. Its negotiating partners, led by the United States, insist that Iran can only be allowed to operate a few thousand at most. There is no clear path to breaking the deadlock.

The United States’ current strategy would make sense if Iran’s only option for acquiring nuclear weapons were a crash program using declared facilities that are inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency—the much-discussed “breakout” scenario. If Tehran goes nuclear, however, it will almost certainly be more surreptitious and build a secret, parallel program dedicated to military ends. The United States should, therefore, aim to negotiate measures to prevent “sneak-out”—greater transparency, most importantly—and be prepared to compromise more over centrifuge numbers.

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