The nuke deal and secret side agreements

This egregious lack of transparency, diligence and supervision must ring alarm bells especially among the most ardent supporters of the JCPOA.

October 5, 2015 22:06
3 minute read.
Muhammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures as he talks with journalist from a balcony of the Palais Coburg hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The current Volkswagen scandal, following those involving FIFA, HSBC Barclays Bank and others is a rude reminder of the absolute importance of ensuring transparent, watchful supervision of even the most respected highly placed officials. When news reports revealed that Iran refused to allow IAEA inspectors to take the required samples from the Parchin site and demanded that only Iranian personnel would take the samples, an unprecedented concession was made, permitting the Iranians to do so on condition that the samples be taken in the presence of IAEA experts to observe and oversee the process.

In the circumstances, the casualness with which the September 21 statement by IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano confirmed that neither he nor any IAEA inspector was present when the samples were taken from the Parchin site should raise major concerns among all who are interested in the successful implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In flagrant violation of the condition that IAEA inspectors be present, the samples were taken only by Iranians, the day before Amano’s visit to Parchin on September 20. Yet Amano had enough confidence in the Iranians to say that the agency can confirm the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples, adding that the IAEA has a legal obligation to keep details of the arrangement confidential.

This egregious lack of transparency, diligence and supervision must ring alarm bells especially among the most ardent supporters of the JCPOA.

As secret agreements are not authorized in the statute of the IAEA, the revelation that many such agreements exist calls for an urgent meeting of the IAEA board of governors and leads to questions about the effectiveness of IAEA inspection of other NPT countries. The question also arises as to what criteria apply to the need for secret agreements and who authorizes and ratifies them. Rather than secrecy, the IAEA is required to submit reports on its activities to the General Assembly of the UN and the Security Council.

The only caution is to avoid disclosing any industrial secret or other confidential information. By the wildest stretch of imagination, the method of “swiping” for samples cannot fall under this description.

No rational explanation has been given for the excessive secretiveness surrounding the nuclear deal which the world learned about when Senator Tom Cotton (R., Arkansas) and Congressmen Mike Pompeo (R., Kansas) disclosed their existence.

President Barack Obama himself has stressed the vital importance of transparency.

In a memorandum signed by the president and published on the White House website, titled “Transparency and Open Government,” the president declares: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” adding “transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.”

These secret deals are not only perplexing to the public, they appear to confuse members of the administration as well.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that there are no “secret side deals” kept out of the nuclear accord submitted to Congress. He described the additional documents signed by the IAEA and Iran as “technical arrangements” that are standard between the IAEA and a country being inspected. (If merely technical, why secret?) On July 22 White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice admitted the existence of two secret “side deals” between Iran and the IAEA and told reporters that their contents would be revealed to lawmakers in classified briefings.

Most puzzling and disturbing of all is that even Secretary of State John Kerry has declared that he knows nothing of these secret deals. Rep. Pompeo said Kerry told him directly that he has not read the secret side deals and he told him that the State Department does not have possession of these documents. According to the Washington Examiner, Pompeo said that Kerry told lawmakers he has not read the side deals, never possessed a copy of them and approved the nuclear agreement without knowing their details.

If future disputes are to be avoided and indeed if the JCPOA is to be capable of implementation, the secret agreements must be attached to the JCPOA as annexes and the JCPOA should provide that it, together with the attached annexes, constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and supersedes all prior agreements, representations and understandings of the parties, written or oral.

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