“Our message to Iran is clear,” Clinton said alongside European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton in Sarajevo. “The window remains open to resolve the international community’s concerns about your nuclear program diplomatically and to relieve your isolation, but that window cannot remain open indefinitely.” Two talking points that have characterized the administration’s statements regarding Iran’s nuclear activities refer to the closing “window,” and the assertion that time and U.S. patience are “not unlimited.” Since President Obama more than three years ago advised Tehran that “our patience is not unlimited” and Clinton declared that “the opportunity will not remain open indefinitely” and warned “we are not going to keep the window open forever,” they and other administration officials have repeated the two phrases multiple times.
Meanwhile Iran has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) more than eight-fold, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Two months before Obama took office in January 2009, the IAEA said it verified a LEU supply of 839 kilograms. By September 2009, that had grown by 591 kilograms, for a total of 1,430 kilograms. In its most recent report, early last month, the IAEA said Iran’s LEU holdings have now reached 6,876 kilograms. The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security says that 6,876 kilograms of LEU, “if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over six nuclear weapons.” “We are now running out of time with respect to that [diplomatic] approach,” Obama said in Singapore on November 15, 2009, and a State Department spokesman added two weeks later, “The president has said that our patience is not unlimited.”
Fast forward more than two years, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked at a February 28 briefing when the window with Iran would close, said he would not give “a specific date.” “[W]e believe there is time and space to pursue a diplomatic path, a path that intensifies the sanctions, intensifies the isolation, and attempts, through unified international action, to get the Iranian regime to change its behavior,” he said. At a March 6 press conference, Obama said, “At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; It’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.”
A week later, Obama said alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron that “the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.” The message was repeated on March 26 by deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, briefing reporters in South Korea: “We made clear that there is time and space for diplomacy, but people also have to understand that that time is not unlimited.”
‘The clock is ticking’