White House slams report of secret Iran deal exemptions

Report author tells ‘Post’: Exemptions are ‘permanent’

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (3rd L) and Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan (2nd L) stand in front of the new air defense missile system Bavar-373, in Tehran, Iran August 21, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (3rd L) and Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan (2nd L) stand in front of the new air defense missile system Bavar-373, in Tehran, Iran August 21, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – World powers that brokered a nuclear deal with Iran last year allegedly renegotiated at least two line items of the agreement back in January, exempting Tehran from a provision meant to cap its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, according to a think tank report released on Thursday.
The Obama administration swiftly denied the report and its findings, and attacked its authors at the nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security. David Albright, the institute’s founder and president, and a nuclear physicist previously employed by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency co-wrote the report.
Quoting senior officials, Albright alleges the Joint Commission – a body representing all eight negotiating parties, tasked with implementing the deal – formally granted Iran permission to exceed a 300-kilogram cap on stockpiled uranium enriched at 3.5 percent codified in the nuclear accord.
Enriching uranium is one of two ways a country can acquire fissile material for a nuclear weapon. The more material that Iran can stockpile, and the more that stockpiled material is refined, the closer Tehran will be to having the requisite material for a single device.
Albright does not specify how much “LEU” Iran is allowed to stockpile under this alleged exemption, and The Jerusalem Post was unable to independently verify its findings.
His report also says that Iran was allowed to maintain some material enriched at 20 percent – a critical threshold in the enrichment process. But that stockpile was in “lab contaminant,” or in layman’s terms, unusable. One senior official described in the report as “knowledgeable” – the official is not attributed to a specific country or international body – said that if the Joint Commission had not acted to create these exemptions, some of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not have been in compliance with the deal by January 16.
That was the deadline for “Implementation Day” of the nuclear deal, when the West was scheduled to begin lifting sanctions. And yet, despite this explanation, the Joint Commission’s exemptions are not temporary, meant to provide Iran with more time to ultimately come into compliance, Albright told the Post on Thursday.
“The LEU exemptions are permanent, so they do not count in tallying the 300 kilogram cap, now or in the future,” Albright said in an interview.
The report also alleges that Iran is being allowed to operate 19 radiation containment chambers larger than the accord set. These so-called “hot cells” are used for handling radioactive material but can be “misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation efforts,” reads the report. Plutonium is another nuclear weapons fuel.
“The hot cells are not under 24/7 surveillance,” Albright told the Post. “We are asking in the report if all of them are inspected or monitored periodically by the IAEA.”
Albright has at times been critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but not exclusively so: The nuclear deal achieved “many US objectives,” he said in testimony before Congress last year, while also raising “several concerns.”
The White House characterized the report as an attempt “by critics of the deal to undermine it with misinformation and distortions.”
“The United States and its partners did not and will not allow Iran to skirt its JCPOA commitments,” one White House official told the Post. “Iran completed all of the steps required to get to Implementation Day under the JCPOA, as verified by the IAEA. Any assertion to the contrary is completely false, including any assertion that we moved forward with Implementation Day before Iran met all of its nuclear-related commitments.”
The official said that, in particular, the UN nuclear watchdog had that verified Iran “does not have any sensitive nuclear material not permitted by the JCPOA.” And Iran has “never” been over its limit of 300 kg., the official added. Albright’s Thursday report criticizes the administration for keeping “secret” the Joint Commission’s findings, which it says are written down and therefore amount to confidential documents.
“Since the JCPOA is public, any rationale for keeping these exemptions secret appears unjustified,” the report charges. “Moreover, the Joint Commission’s secretive decision- making process risks advantaging Iran by allowing it to try to systematically weaken the JCPOA. It appears to be succeeding in several key areas.”But the White House official rejected use of the term “secret.”
“The Joint Commission and its role in addressing implementation issues are described in the JCPOA,” the official said, “its meetings have been publicly announced and reported, and the administration has briefed Congress frequently and comprehensively on all of the Joint Commission’s work.”
Reuters contributed to this report.