Iranian military parade showcasing missiles.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With all the claims, counter- claims, denials and explanations, one thing becomes certain: Iran will have a role in inspecting itself. It almost does not matter what this role will be.
Any self-inspection will run counter to the presently accepted International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification methodology. Imagine a crimescene investigator letting the suspect be involved in collecting evidence. And this is no ordinary crime scene but rather what can be defined as the most sensitive verification target in the world today – the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, this would be happening at a facility already thoroughly sanitized by the Iranians; the samples would probably not produce anything of worth even if taken by bona-fide IAEA inspectors. But at least if the samples were being collected by the IAEA the results would inspire at least a modicum of trust. How can one trust information produced, even partially, by the Iranians, who have such a distinguished record of concealment, lying and non-compliance with NPT and Safeguards obligations? And this brings us to another issue: can the IAEA director general (DG) sign a secret agreement with a member state, an agreement that does not contain any national confidential information, without bringing it at least to the attention, if not the approval of his Board of Governors (BOG)? The IAEA confidentiality regime is defined in its Safeguards Glossary as “The regime for the protection against unauthorized disclosure of all confidential information that the IAEA acquires, including such information coming to the IAEA’s knowledge in the implementation of safeguards agreements and of additional protocols.”
The agreement on the methodology of inspection cannot include any confidential information, and if it does, that part can be concealed and the rest declassified.
The methodology of inspections, however, is another matter. This must be open for all to assess. By hiding this under the cloak of “confidentiality” one gets the impression that something shady is afoot. The safeguards regime must be foolproof, as much as possible. The regime must be transparent, and withstand the professional scrutiny that the scientific community will undoubtedly provide. But the present situation could also be a foreteller of things to come. It can be envisaged that in future cases, if and when Iran is challenged to permit inspections at a named suspect site it will surely demand the same privileges it has in the present situation, if it accedes at all to the request (which it will do only if the site is blameless). Thus, Iran will be accorded a unique status, while being the nation that the US administration admits is only a stone’s throw away from realizing its nuclear potential.
But even more so, if this is a done deal, other nations under IAEA safeguards could justifiably demand that they be accorded the same privileges as Iran and be permitted to carry out their own inspections. This would save them a lot of trouble and the IAEA a lot of money.
Why not do it? What can then be done to remedy the present situation?
1. The IAEA should declassify and publish the confidential arrangements and bring them for the approval of the BOG.
2. The BOG should consider declaring these agreements null and void, if they do not conform to IAEA standards and norms.
3. The IAEA should reinstate its standard safeguards requirements and methodology according to its Additional Protocol for the Parchin site and any other site that comes under its scrutiny. The verification arrangements in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA – the Iran deal) are relatively weak already, lacking in many respects. They should not be further weakened.
If the situation is allowed to remain unchanged this will become the symbol of the unwillingness of the world to confront Iran, and prove that the many declarations of assuring the delay of Iran’s breakout potential are without any basis.
The ramifications of this are serious and far-reaching.The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS).