WASHINGTON – The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency will allow Iran to use its own experts and equipment to conduct an investigation into questions over its past nuclear weaponization work, according to a leaked document obtained by the Associated Press.The agreement, characterized as “unusual” by nuclear experts, amounts to the IAEA “essentially ceding the agency’s investigative authority to Iran,” the AP stated in its report.
Several agreements made within the umbrella of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral nuclear deal reached in Vienna on July 14, were directly brokered between the IAEA and Iran. Their details are confidential, as per standard IAEA protocol in its dealings with member states.But the terms of this particular agreement appear unusual. The IAEA has sought access to several sites, including an Iranian military complex at Parchin, for nearly a decade, in order to obtain answers to a set list of questions over the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.Physical access will be denied, the report said, as will photo and video evidence of areas of several sites, to accommodate Iran’s “military concerns.”“If this is the agreement, then it is absurd,” said Simon Henderson, a proliferation expert and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If we are not confident that we know what Iran has done in the past, then we cannot accurately estimate how long it would take Iran to break out.”The United States estimates that Iran’s current “breakout time” to a nuclear weapon – the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for one bomb – is two to three months. The JCPOA aims to extend that breakout time to one year for roughly a decade. “Unless non-Iranians do the inspecting, we won’t be confident,” Henderson continued, calling the development a “major, perhaps fatal, weakness” in the accord. “It is no good just considering breakout in terms of enriching enough material, in this case [highly enriched uranium], for a nuclear weapon.”Responding to the report, State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to confirm its contents, but said the IAEA is “comfortable with the arrangements” and that the US had confidence in the IAEA.“It’s not for the P5+1 to endorse or negate,” Kirby said, referring to the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, which together negotiated the agreement with Iran. The US, he said, is “confident the IAEA will get the information and the access it needs” to resolve questions of possible military dimensions.“Until those concerns are adequately addressed by the IAEA, there can be no sanctions relief under this deal,” Kirby said.The Prime Minister’s Office had no immediate response on Wednesday night to the report. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has been extremely critical of the supervisory mechanisms that were already reported on, including the fact that the Iranians would get 24-day notice before supervisors could visit undeclared nuclear sites.Netanyahu has said that was the equivalent of “the police giving a drug dealer three-and- a-half-weeks’ notice before raiding his lab. Believe me, you can flush a lot of nuclear meth down the toilet in 24 days.”National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has been heavily involved in the Iranian nuclear issue, released a sarcastic statement about the Iranians being able to monitor themselves, saying “one must welcome this global innovation and outside-the-box thinking.”“One can only wonder if the Iranian inspectors will also have to wait 24 days before being able to visit the site and look for incriminating evidence?” he asked. The news will likely feed skepticism on Capitol Hill, where 24 senators have declared support for the agreement, but where 20 remain undeclared and the entire Republican caucus stands united in opposition.
Iran deal in a nutshell
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-California) responded harshly to the report on Wednesday afternoon.
"International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period," he said. "Congress must now consider whether this unprecedented arrangement will keep Iran from cheating."
Royce, who called the IAEA agreement a "dangerous farce," is joined by the committee's ranking member, Eliot Engel (D-New York), in public opposition to the agreement. Thus far, twelve Democrats in the House and two in the Senate have declared their disapproval. The IAEA agreement “establishes a dangerous precedent that the IAEA weapons inspectors will never get physical access into any military sites as the Iranians have repeatedly refused to provide,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in reaction to the report.“To permit Iran to carry out its own soil sampling and to rely on technical checks will not compensate for the necessity that IAEA weapons inspectors must physically enter and thoroughly investigate any suspect military or nonmilitary sites,” Dubowitz said. “It is through these physical investigations that inspectors can dis - cover the clues of clandestine nuclear and weapons develop - ment activities.”Herb Keinon contributed to this report.