Shadow Government

How to Tell if Tehran Is Lying About Its Nuclear Ambitions

How to counter Iran’s bold cheating on its nuclear commitments? Publicize and act on revelations of mendacity alleged by the Iranian opposition group with a track record of valid revelations — the National of Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its office in Washington, NCRIUS. The narrative of talks between the major powers and ...

AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images
AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images

How to counter Iran’s bold cheating on its nuclear commitments? Publicize and act on revelations of mendacity alleged by the Iranian opposition group with a track record of valid revelations — the National of Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its office in Washington, NCRIUS.

The narrative of talks between the major powers and Iran focuses on whether Iran will agree to curb uranium enrichment by cutting down on centrifuges in exchange for sanctions relief. But the backstory — Tehran’s serial cheating — should be the front narrative.

Is President Barack Obama hoping for a deal so much that he ignores Iran’s prior record of defiance of its obligations to be transparent? Our president’s desperate October letter to an unresponsive and uncooperative Supreme Leader of Iran signals weakness in face of defiance and cheating is of little consequence.

Doubling down on desperation, Secretary of State John Kerry has lamented how difficult it would be to reach a deal with Iran if negotiations extend beyond the Nov. 24 deadline: "I want to get this done," he said, reported the Washington Post, "And we are driving toward the finish with a view of trying to get it done." He has compounded desperation with unfounded optimism about demonstrating Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, saying, "We believe it is pretty easy to prove to the world that a plan is peaceful."

But it is difficult for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify whether Iran is cheating: IAEA inspectors are not allowed to gain access to a major facility indicating marrying fuel to a delivery system — Parchin — on the grounds it is a military site for conventional weapons research and off-limits to the IAEA.

Recalcitrance has prompted the IAEA regularly to issue statements like: "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."

In support of the international community, NCRIUS released details of Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons activities at a press conference on Nov. 7, 2014.

My takeaways:

First, Iran built two explosive chambers, not one as previously believed. An explosive chamber is what the IAEA suspects Iran used for high explosive tests relevant to nuclear weapons development. If true, Tehran is more advanced and intent on nuclear weaponization, and inspectors could have an even more difficult time locating both chambers.

Second, NCRIUS revealed names of personnel responsible for explosive chamber design and installation at Parchin; they included an officer of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a Ukrainian explosive expert with extensive knowledge of key technologies critical to making nuclear weapons. The IAEA needs such names to place on its list of persons to interview or re-interview because they may be involved in illicit activities.

Third, Tehran uses different covers to conceal its nuclear weaponization activities, making verification harder. Thus, the nuclear talks in Vienna need to focus more on transparency and getting complete answers to all the key outstanding issues as well as full access to sites, personnel, and documents.

On May 21, 2014, the IAEA and Iran issued a joint statement: Tehran agreed to inform the Agency of "initiation of high explosives, including the conduct of large-scale high explosives experimentation in Iran," i.e., weaponization, a very secretive aspect of the Iranian nuclear program.

Although Tehran’s willingness to broach the topic was hailed by supporters of the talks as a sign of cooperation, Iran’s action does not match promise. Tehran keeps active and intact its core team of weaponization researchers; so the regime is poised to continue stonewalling.

On Nov. 7, the IAEA issued a report, which converges with information formally released by the NCRIUS hours later: Although Iran pledged to cooperate on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, the Agency continues to seek answers and access to a specific location at Parchin where high explosive activities related to nuclear weapons development are alleged to have taken place, but to no avail so far.

Given a chance to comment on the NCRI report also on Nov. 7, the State Department briefer admitted awareness, ran for cover, and made a perfunctory remark: "We’re aware of the claims that were made, but we don’t have any comment on the substance." In a press conference of March 2005 in support of talks with Iran and the European Union, then-President George W. Bush did not run, but implicitly credited the NCRI for exposing Tehran’s cheating.

Neither President Obama’s White House nor his State Department has yet to credit the NCRI for revelations. Crediting the NCRI gives Washington leverage against Tehran and negates the perception that the United States is desperate for a deal as negotiations enter the endgame and a Republican majority in the Congress readies to pass even tougher sanctions against Iran, perhaps with an updated bipartisan Menendez-Kirk bill.

Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

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