American investigators will not be part of the International Atomic Energy Agency team inspecting Iranian nuclear sites, inspections that are mandated in a historic agreement signed this week to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting crippling international sanctions.
“The IAEA will field an international team of inspectors and those inspectors will, in all likelihood, come from IAEA member states, most of whom have diplomatic relations with Iran. We [the United States] are a rare exception,” US National Security Adviser Susan Rice told CNN on Thursday.
“No Americans will be part of the IAEA team,” she emphasized.
“There are not going to be independent American inspectors separate from the IAEA” in Iran, Rice said when pressed on the issue. “The IAEA will be doing the inspections on behalf of the US and the rest of the international community.”
She did not indicate whether this was a condition placed by Iran for agreeing to the inspections.
The US cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in the wake of the 1979 hostage crisis at the embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held captive for 444 days. Since the election of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, the US and Iran have seen a gradual, if careful, rapprochement, including a phone call between President Barack Obama and Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly two years ago.
Iran and the US-led P5+1 world powers signed a deal in Vienna this week aimed at reining in Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The deal allows IAEA inspectors to visit suspect Iranian facilities, though the inspections may only take place some 24 days after a question arises, which opponents of the accord, including Israel, see as a major flaw and a potential loophole for concealing forbidden nuclear work.
But Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Friday that the UN inspectors will have plenty of time to detect any Iranian bid to cheat.
“I can assure you our intelligence community is completely comfortable that 24 days is not enough time for them to be able to evade our technical means, our capacity to observe,” he told MSNBC.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and others have slammed the deal for not going far enough to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. Opponent have also criticized what they deem far-reaching US concessions to Iran, including on inspections and sanctions.
Israel has maintained that the billions that will flow into Iranian coffers following the lifting of punitive measures will go to finance terrorism on a major scale, an argument the US has had some difficulty disputing.
In her CNN interview, Rice said the US thinks Iran will spend the money “on people and their economy which is tanked,” but acknowledged that “it is possible and in fact we should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.”
“But the goal was never, and was not designed to prevent them from engaging in bad behavior in the region, they’re doing that today. The goal is to ensure that they don’t have a nuclear weapon, and therefore when they are engaging in that bad behavior, it’s that much more dangerous,” she added vaguely.
The deal sets out a so-called “snapback” mechanism to put the old sanctions back in place. It establishes a joint commission which would examine any complaints if world powers feel Iran has not met its commitments under the Vienna deal.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to endorse the 10-year deal next Monday.
The text of the resolution circulated by the United States to members of the council “requests the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency to undertake the necessary verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear commitments.”
The new resolution, when passed, would replace the existing framework of seven sets of Security Council sanctions imposed since 2006 on Iran, enshrining a new set of restrictions.
Once the council receives the IAEA’s report on compliance, the seven sets of Security Council sanctions can be repealed.
AFP contributed to this report.