Iran: An atomically correct picture

Photo above: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, on July 14, 2014, for a second day of meetings about the future of his country’s nuclear program. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

This year’s March 16th edition of the New York Times brought up an interesting point about the relativity of time in regards to historical events. No, it had nothing to do with interstellar concepts of wormholes and other space/time dimensions. In “Atomic Clocks,” Amy Davidson addresses how much — and how little — can change in a decade, historically speaking.

Davidson pointed to the story of Bruno Pontecarvo, a Jewish-Italian physicist who unexpectedly vanished for five years in 1950. Pontecarvo was given security clearance to work at Harwell as a professor when he had to go into hiding after speculation that he was spying. His work on British and Canadian nuclear projects was put on hold. Freeman Dyson, physics professor, asserted that the brief delay in nuclear intelligence didn’t matter much in the long term, saying, “Spies accelerated the production of the first Soviet bombs by 2 or 3 years, but those bombs soon became obsolete and were superseded by new designs invented without the help of spies.”

Fast forward to today, and we have the current threat of Iranian weapons breathing down on necks as our leaders attempt to negotiate a “10-15 year support clause” allowing inspections to avoid production of nuclear bombs.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remained unimpressed as well, claiming that a decade hardly registered as a notable span in a historical timeline. According to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu was quoted as saying, “The breakout time to achieve fissile material for nuclear bombs will not be years, as was said at the beginning.” He added, “Our assessment is that it has been reduced to a year, and possibly much less time than that.”

Secretary Kerry meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 2014, in Jerusalem. (Wikipedia)
Secretary Kerry meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 2014, in Jerusalem.

One problem is that nuclear projects don’t require physicists anymore. The more important question is: Can they get the essential materials (namely, enriched uranium and sufficient centrifuge systems) necessary for production?

“Folks, demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan,” Senator John Kerry remarked after listening to Netanyahu speak in Switzerland, with members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5 +1) present. “If a deal were to be struck, all the other challenges related to Iran would remain, except that we will have taken steps to guarantee that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”

At this very moment, the Iranian negotiations are taking more time than originally expected. The March 31st deadline has been moved back, with the latest CNN articles reporting that Marie Harf, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, defends this decision. ““We’ve made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday,” she said, “(and) there are several difficult issues still remaining.”

Despite offers to remove sanctions currently hindering Iran’s ability to compete in the global economy, Iran has not yet conceded what leaders see as a right to nuclear power. However, they have much to gain from the proposed deals. According to multiple world news sources, Iran’s oil exports have been decreased almost 50 percent since 2012 by sanctions. Of course, they still export a little more than 1 million barrels daily.

On Tuesday, March 31st, 2015, multiple world powers and Iran hoped to at least finalize a draft of a preliminary agreement. NPR reports confirm optimism on behalf of Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who said there is at least “a broad framework of understanding” despite “some key issues that still have to be worked through.”

The next day, the U.S. found itself being played like a pawn against our set deadline, as Iranian leaders refused to budge without further rights and resources given (centrifuges, even more potent than former designs) and sanctions lifted. For weeks now, many have been asserting this to be fact, citing the deadline as a poor political choice that only allows Iran to hold our feet to the fire, rather than deal fairly.

Like a bad April Fools’ Day joke, our obsession with time is being contrasted with our seemingly lost ability to place ourselves within a historical context. If we are to give time any consideration in this matter, perhaps it’s more important to be weighing the costs of making a timely but poor deal than making none at all. A deal made in haste could indeed make waste, because it would fail to change anything for the better — or for a relevant period of time.