VIENNA – Every sovereign nation has its secrets. And every nation is entitled to protect those secrets.
That is what Iran is arguing at the negotiating table in Vienna with world powers, which seek to secure access for the International Atomic Energy Agency to all sites across Iran suspected of hosting nuclear-related activity.
The IAEA’s role is to verify the correctness, and completeness, of Iran’s declarations with respect to those sites – which will require access “anytime and anywhere it needs to go,” American officials say.
At their final round of negotiations, the US and France are stressing the fine line they need to walk with Iran to secure that access: One that achieves a legal and necessarily cautious level of intrusiveness with a degree of respect for privacy reserved by all nations.
The UN Security Council has determined that, over the past decade, Iran has been in violation of international norms by not complying with key tenets of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. That is what these negotiations are ostensibly about: Seeking a deal that in a verifiable manner brings Iran back in line with its international obligations, which will then allow for Iran’s return to the international community.
But despite its transgressions, Western powers appear in agreement that Iran is still entitled to a minimum level of privacy from international inspectors, who may indeed require “managed access” to Iran’s conventional military sites.
Iran argues that such access is a violation of its very sovereignty – that the IAEA is seeking access “beyond protocol,” in the words of one Iranian official. It believes it is an extraordinary standard never applied to any other nation. And the Americans are listening.
Speaking in Vienna on Sunday, one senior US administration official suggested the answer to this challenge may be a question of distinct negotiations that will invariably occur over the life of a deal.
Washington says the IAEA, an independent body, must be granted access to any site in Iran it suspects of being a part of Iran’s nuclear work – including sites that have never held nuclear material – in any final agreement. That remains non-negotiable, and will continue throughout the life of the deal and beyond under the IAEA’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements and Additional Protocols.
But should the IAEA seek access to Iran’s military installations, a negotiation may take place before the inspection, which may allow Iran to shroud, move or otherwise hide some of its secret non-nuclear materials.
Under the Additional Protocol, Iran may also seek to resolve the IAEA’s concerns by providing it material without granting it access. Or Iran may grant access, but not allow IAEA inspectors to leave the facilities with any documents, photo evidence or trace material.
The IAEA has these negotiations all the time with participating nations, the US official noted, as more than 120 countries have acceded to the Additional Protocol since its drafting in 1997. And the body, based in Vienna, is confident in its ability to determine whether nuclear material has been present in a facility.
Such negotiations will ultimately be settled by the IAEA and, under any comprehensive nuclear agreement, an independent body that will adjudicate disagreements.
Negotiators are still working out a conflict-resolution mechanism that will guarantee these cases are handled swiftly.
The international community, not Iran, will have the final say, US officials contend – or else sanctions will be reimposed.
For 10 to 15 years of an agreement, an entirely unique set of monitoring and enforcement measures will be implemented across Iran’s declared nuclear supply chain.
Following that, Iran’s assent to the Additional Protocol is theoretically permanent under any comprehensive nuclear agreement reached with the P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Tehran already once volunteered to implement the protocol in 2003 before retreating from that commitment in 2006.
But regardless of the nature of the inspections regime, one flaw will always persist: Inspections delay tactics and obfuscation may hinder the enforcement of the nuclear deal, if not the inking of the deal itself.
Still, merely one day before a critical deadline for that deal, Western negotiators appear adamant to find a compromise.
They seek to respect Iran’s argument on sovereignty, but refuse to allow Iran to maintain no-go zones – what they interpret to be gaping holes in a deal.
They are emphasizing the respect the IAEA will have for Iran’s conventional military apparatus. The nuclear watchdog has no history of spying, the senior US official noted; That is not its interest, nor its job.
Shortly after the announcement of a framework for a nuclear agreement in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested his government was not prepared to adhere to the Additional Protocol. According to parameters of the framework released by the White House, Iran’s negotiators agreed to do so provisionally – not voluntarily – in Lausanne.
And Khamenei, just one week ago, ruled out any inspections of Iran’s military facilities. His position was codified in a law passed by Iran’s parliament and Guardian Council, an unelected body close to the supreme leader.
Intrinsic to those protocols, the US official said, is an all-or-nothing proposition: The IAEA must be able to do its work completely. And implicit to that, he said, is access anywhere it needs to go, anytime, without delay or interference.