On my mind: Nuclear Protocol

Tehran’s consistent failure to comply has been noted regularly in quarterly IAEA reports and statements by Yukiya Amano, the UN nuclear watchdog agency’s director.

June 22, 2015 22:17
4 minute read.
iran nuclear talks

Iran's FM Javad Zarif (L) holds a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) in talks over Tehran's nuclear program in Vienna, July 14, 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Near the end of the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program is a brief reference to the Additional Protocol, a document signed by Iran in December 2003 that guaranteed unfettered inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“Iran is not implementing the Additional Protocol,” states the IAEA. “The Agency will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless and until Iran provides the necessary cooperation with the Agency, including by implementing its Additional Protocol.”

Tehran’s consistent failure to comply has been noted regularly in quarterly IAEA reports and statements by Yukiya Amano, the UN nuclear watchdog agency’s director. And each time there also is a pledge to carry on discussions about the Additional Protocol obligations.

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“The Agency and Iran agreed to continue the dialogue and meet again in the near future,” the IAEA stated in its May 29 report.

Such acknowledgments of Iran’s noncompliance have become pro forma over more than a dozen years of international negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing the capability to develop nuclear weapons – and one day actually producing them.

Deferring until some point in the future, at least until further delay is no longer possible, may have seemed a sensible strategy.

But that moment is now. With the deadline to complete the P5+1 agreement with Iran only a week away, the question for the US-led international negotiators is whether they really do share Amano’s serious concern about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program.

Until very recently, Amano had the support of Washington and European governments, which insisted that Iran’s refusal to fully answer queries about PMD and past nuclear research and activities would be a deal breaker.

Whatever terms could be reached on numbers and types of centrifuges, on research, and other known aspects of Iran’s program, any deal would still be dangerously inadequate without full disclosure from Tehran.

The IAEA, a UN body, needs the backing of its member states, especially UN Security Council members, to fulfill its non-proliferation mission. That makes it critical for the P5+1 and the IAEA to remain aligned in pursuing the question of PMD.

“We would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful,” US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the AJC Global Forum on June 9.

But it appears that insistence on Iran providing a full accounting of its past nuclear work has been left on the wayside of the path to a deal. US Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that historical behavior is not as important as Iran’s future commitment. Iranian leaders, meanwhile, have been declaring that opening all sites to inspections is just not going to happen. Who blinks first by midnight on June 30 will determine who wins the standoff in the negotiations.

All options are on the table was the mantra amid rife speculation a few years ago, leaving open a possible military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal published extensive analyses of possible options for an Israeli military attack. And Israeli journalist Ron Bergman wrote a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” Then, with a determination to pursue diplomacy against the background of stringent economic and financial sanctions, a new mantra, “No deal is better than a bad deal,” took hold. But since the April 2 framework agreement that set the stage for the emerging final deal, the message from American negotiators has been that this is the best deal, it must be seized, and those who think a better deal is attainable should come forward with a sound alternative.

“We’ve had plenty of opportunities throughout this negotiating process to take a bad deal; we did not and we will not,” said Blinken at the AJC Global Forum.

Fortunately, what is ultimately considered a deal good enough to sign will still have to undergo review by Congress.

No doubt questions will be probing. The Additional Protocol and PMD should top the list, along with the IAEA declaration that “Iran is required to cooperate fully with the Agency on all outstanding issues.”

For if a deal is signed without Iran disclosing fully its past nuclear research and development, and agreeing to open all its facilities to inspections, what possible ironclad assurances are there for thorough scrutiny and verifications that no nuclear weapons are being developed afterwards? Unless that gaping hole is filled satisfactorily, by the June 30 deadline, or after another extension of the talks, the threat of an eventual nuclear Iran will remain as clear and dangerous, to the region and beyond, as it is today.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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