Shadow Government

How Iran Will Wriggle Free of Inspections

Read the fine print of the Iran nuclear deal, and you'll see that the inspection guarantees are anything but.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06:  U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz briefs reporters about how the recent international agreement that will eliminate Iran's pathways to making a nuclear weapon in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Moniz was part of the United States' team of negotiators that worked out the agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 06: U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz briefs reporters about how the recent international agreement that will eliminate Iran's pathways to making a nuclear weapon in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Moniz was part of the United States' team of negotiators that worked out the agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a recent article, I argued that both supporters and skeptics of the Iran nuclear deal have overstated the importance of so-called “anywhere, anytime” inspections. Such access is not as important as a complete and correct declaration by Tehran of all its relevant nuclear activities, and access for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the people and documents necessary to verify it. This must also include the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, as identified by the IAEA.

In my argument, I detailed the provisions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for inspecting undeclared facilities, noting that it could take 24 days for the IAEA to gain access to a suspect site. Unfortunately, the Iran deal is worse than that in two respects.

First: the JCPOA specifies that if the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared activities, it should first raise the matter with Iran. If the regime’s response proves unsatisfying, the IAEA could then request access to a facility, triggering the 24-day timeline. But the JCPOA leaves unspecified the time Tehran would have to answer the initial IAEA expression of concern — although such a step would, of course, tip off those attempting to conceal illicit activities.

Second: even if Iran defied a decision to grant the IAEA access to a suspect site, under the terms of the JCPOA, it would take 85 days before sanctions could “snap back.” At, say, day 70, Iran might well relent and invite the IAEA to tour the suspect site, leaving the other parties to the JCPOA to decide between sanctioning Iran and tubing the agreement, or accepting the inspection offer and hoping the deal can limp on. Based on the arguments being made about not letting the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program stand in the way of a prospective accord, it is pretty clear how that dilemma would be resolved.

Thus, the real-time delay Iran might be able to impose on a request to inspect a suspect site could be much more than 24 days. Worse still, this undercuts existing IAEA authorities under the Additional Protocol — which provides for 24-hour (not day) access under special inspections. Were the IAEA to attempt to invoke such authorities, Tehran would likely argue, with some justification, that the JCPOA establishes a much longer process.

All in all, this makes a farce of Ben Rhodes’ and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s assertions that the deal would include anywhere, anytime inspections of suspect sites.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

 

William Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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