Israel responded with furious cynicism Wednesday night to news that Iran is to be allowed to conduct its own inspections of a site it allegedly used to develop nuclear arms. In the US, Republican leaders also responded bitterly to the news, with a leading senator calling the agreement to have Iran inspect its own suspect site “remarkably naive and incredibly reckless.”
According to a document obtained by the Associated Press, an agreement worked out between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran allows the Islamic Republic to use its own experts to inspect the Parchin nuclear site. The IAEA’s concession is unprecedented, according to a former senior IAEA official.
Iran has refused access to Parchin for years. Based on US, Israeli and other intelligence and its own research, the IAEA suspects that the Islamic Republic may have experimented with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms at that military facility. The IAEA has also repeatedly cited evidence, based on satellite images, of possible attempts to sanitize the site since the alleged work stopped more than a decade ago.
While the White House declined to comment on the reported document, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz immediately issued a caustic response. “One must welcome this global innovation and outside-the-box thinking,” he said in a statement dripping with sarcasm. “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?”
Steinitz, the Israeli government’s point man on Iran, was alluding to the complex clauses in the agreement reached last month between world powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program, one of which provides Iran with 24-days notice of efforts to inspect suspect sites.
Republican senators were also furious. “This side agreement shows that true verification is a sham, and it begs the question of what else the administration is keeping from Congress,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader. McCarthy also complained that Congress learned of the IAEA deal from the AP report and not from the administration.
John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the UN in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless. This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement.”
The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, called the agreement a “dangerous farce,” and accused the world powers who brokered the deal of acquiescing to Iran’s every demand.
“International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period. The standard of ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections – so critical to a viable agreement – has dropped to ‘when Iran wants, where Iran wants, on Iran’s terms,’” Royce said Wednesday. “For weeks, Congress has been demanding access to this document to assess the viability of the inspections measures. Congress must now consider whether this unprecedented arrangement will keep Iran from cheating. This is a dangerous farce.”
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush also used the term “farce,” writing Wednesday on Twitter that “Nuclear inspections of state sponsors of terrorism can’t work on the honor system.”
Iran deal is a farce. Nuclear inspections of state sponsors of terrorism can't work on the honor system. http://t.co/f3QUrUtNjP
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) August 19, 2015
Israel has savaged the deal concluded by the P5+1 powers and Iran, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu branding it a historic mistake that will both pave Iran’s path to the bomb and, by lifting sanctions, cement the Islamist regime in power and allow it fund more terrorist activity and other dangerous regional activities.
Netanyahu has lobbied Congress to reject the deal when it votes on it next month.
The AP report on the separate IAEA-Iran side-agreement relating to Parchin dryly termed the self-inspection clause “an unusual arrangement.”
It said news of the agreement would be “sure to roil American and Israeli critics of the main Iran deal signed by the US, Iran and five world powers in July.”
The investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the International Atomic Energy Agency is linked to a broader probe of allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear deal.
The Parchin deal is a separate, side agreement worked out directly between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers that signed the Iran nuclear deal were not party to this agreement but were briefed on it by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.
Without divulging its contents, the Obama administration had previously described the document as nothing more than a routine technical arrangement between Iran and the IAEA on the particulars of inspecting the site.
Any IAEA member country must give the agency some insight into its nuclear program. Some countries are required to do no more than give a yearly accounting of the nuclear material they possess. But nations— like Iran — suspected of possible proliferation are under greater scrutiny that can include stringent inspections.
However, the agreement diverges from normal inspection procedures between the IAEA and a member country by essentially ceding the agency’s investigative authority to Iran. It allows Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence for activities that it has consistently denied — trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Evidence of that concession, as outlined in the document, is sure to increase pressure from US congressional opponents as they review the July 14 Iran nuclear deal and vote on a resolution of disapproval in early September. If the resolution passed and President Barack Obama vetoed it, opponents would need a two-thirds majority to override it. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has suggested opponents will likely lose.
The White House has denied claims by critics that a secret “side deal” favorable to Tehran exists. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the Parchin document is like other routine arrangements between the agency and individual IAEA member nations. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Republican senators last week that he is obligated to keep the document confidential.
Kerry said last month that neither he nor any members of the administration had actually had access to the agreement itself.
“We are aware of what the basics of it are,” he asserted, adding that the agreement “is not shared with the world, but we do get briefed on it.”
Republican critics are bound to harshly criticize any document that cedes to Iran the right to look for the very nuclear wrongdoing that it has denied committing. Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he can think of no instance where a country being probed was allowed to do its own investigation.
The document seen by the AP is a draft that one official familiar with its contents said doesn’t differ substantially from the final version. He demanded anonymity because he isn’t authorized to discuss the issue.
It is labeled “separate arrangement II,” indicating there is another confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA governing the agency’s probe of the nuclear weapons allegations.
The document suggests that instead of carrying out their own probe, IAEA staff will be reduced to monitoring Iranian personnel as these inspect the Parchin site.
Iran will provide agency experts with photos and videos of locations the IAEA says are linked to the alleged weapons work, “taking into account military concerns.”
That wording suggests that — beyond being barred from physically visiting the site — the agency won’t even get photo or video information from areas Iran says are off-limits because they have military significance.
‘Iran’s authenticated equipment’
IAEA experts would normally take environmental samples for evidence of any weapons development work, but the agreement stipulates that Iranian technicians will do the sampling.
The sampling is also limited to only seven samples inside the building where the experiments allegedly took place. Additional ones will be allowed only outside of the Parchin site, in an area still to be determined.
“Activities will be carried out using Iran’s authenticated equipment consistent with technical specifications provided by the agency,” the agreement says. While the document says that the IAEA “will ensure the technical authenticity” of Iran’s inspection, it does not say how.
The draft is unsigned but the signatory for Iran is listed as Ali Hoseini Tash, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for Strategic Affairs instead of an official of Iran’s nuclear agency. That reflects the significance Tehran attaches to the agreement.
Iranian diplomats in Vienna were unavailable for comment, while IAEA spokesman Serge Gas said the agency had no immediate comment.
The main focus of the July 14 deal between Iran and six world powers is curbing Iran’s present nuclear program that could be used to make weapons. But a subsidiary element obligates Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA in its probe of the allegations.
The investigation has been essentially deadlocked for years, with Tehran asserting the allegations are based on false intelligence from the US, Israel and other adversaries. But Iran and the UN agency agreed last month to wrap up the investigation by December, when the IAEA plans to issue a final assessment on the allegations.
Both Iran and the IAEA were upbeat when announcing the agreement last month. But Western diplomats from IAEA member nations who are familiar with the probe are doubtful that Tehran will diverge from claiming that all its nuclear activities are — and were — peaceful, despite what they say is evidence to the contrary.
They say the agency will be able to report in December. But that assessment is unlikely to be unequivocal because chances are slim that Iran will present all the evidence the agency wants or give it the total freedom of movement it needs to follow up the allegations.
Still, the report is expected to be approved by the IAEA’s board, which includes the United States and other powerful nations that negotiated the July 14 agreement. They do not want to upend their July 14 deal, and will see the December report as closing the books on the issue.
Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairman Lindsay Graham, a Republican presidential hopeful, last week asked for “any and all copies of side agreements between Iran and the IAEA associated with the Iran nuclear deal.” He threatened to cut off US funding for the UN agency otherwise.