Administration Touts Nuclear Deal of ‘Double-Digit Duration’; Iran Rejects Sunset Clause

By Patrick Goodenough | March 4, 2015 | 4:08 AM EST

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during earlier nuclear talks in Geneva. (Photo: State Department)

( – A new phrase being circulated by the administration in relation to a proposed nuclear deal with Iran is “double-digit duration” – that is, an agreement period of at least 10 years – but the top Iranian nuclear negotiator stressed Tuesday that such an element is unacceptable to the regime.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf used the term “double-digit duration” or “double-digit agreement” five times during Tuesday’s daily briefing, a day after President Obama in a Reuters interview spoke about the possibility of Iran being “willing to agree to double-digit years of keeping their program where it is right now.”

The “double-digit” reference is to a proposal that will curb Iran’s nuclear program for a period of at least ten years before restrictions are eased – a so-called sunset clause. The P5+1 negotiating group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – had initially pressed for a 15-20 year period.

Now Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, who was negotiating with Secretary of State John Kerry in Montreux, Switzerland on Tuesday, has dashed the notion that his government would agree.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not surrender to the other side’s excessive demands and illogical positions,” the official Irna state news agency quoted him as saying in Montreux, reacting to Obama’s comments to Reuters.

Zarif said it was clear that Obama’s “unacceptable and threatening words and phrases” had been employed to win over U.S. public opinion and to counter the “propaganda” of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “and other radical opponents of the negotiations.”

In his speech before Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu described the proposal's sunset clause as a dangerous concession to Iran.

“Virtually all the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade,” he said.

“Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.”

Harf disagreed with his assessment.

“After a double-digit duration, they will be much further away from a nuclear weapon than they are today,” she told the briefing. “And you can throw out a lot of very scary hypotheticals, but if we look at the technology and we look at where they are today and where they could be in a double-digit duration, that is further away from a nuclear weapon.”

“In no way, at the end of the duration of this agreement, will anyone believe that it is okay or acceptable for them to try to get a nuclear weapon,” Harf added.

In other Iranian reaction to Netanyahu’s speech, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted shortly afterwards, “[The] U.S. is now facing a dilemma. It should either stop unlimited services to Israel or they’ll lose more face in the world.”

Iran Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said the speech was “Iranophobic,” an attempt to impose a “radical and irrational agenda on international policy,” and a sign that Iran’s enemies “have started struggling.”

While much Iranian media coverage has focused on the political controversy in the U.S. over the speech – a Press TV analyst called it attempt by Netanyahu and his GOP allies to embarrass Obama – the Tehran Times called the repeated applause by the assembled lawmakers “surprising and painful.”

“American politicians and people should have realized that their country is a victim of Israeli atrocities in the Middle East. The September 11 attacks are a clear example,” it added, alluding to conspiracy theories blaming Israel for the 2001 al-Qaeda attack.

“So it is necessary that U.S. legislators, especially those Republicans who are opposed to the Obama administration, stop sacrificing the interest of their people and country for Netanyahu, who can hardly be called a normal human being.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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