The State Department on Thursday said “in no way” did the UN atomic watchdog agree to let Iran inspect its own nuclear facilities, rejecting revelations of a secret side deal between the Islamic Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday on a previously undisclosed side deal between Iran and the IAEA that would allow Tehran to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms at least a decade ago. The IAEA wishes to investigate the site in order to learn more about Iran’s past activities there.
State Department spokesman John Kirby dismissed the report, saying in “no way” would the UN nuclear agency cede its oversight to Iran. “That is not how the IAEA does business,” Kirby said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Responding to the report on the side deal, Olli Heinonen, in charge of the Iran investigation as IAEA deputy director general from 2005 through 2010, told AP on Wednesday he could think of no similar arrangement — a country essentially allowed to carry out much of the probe of suspicions against it.
The report, based on a document seen by the AP, newly riled Republican lawmakers who have been severely critical of the broader agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July.
The critics have complained that the wider deal is unwisely built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.
“President Obama boasts his deal includes ‘unprecedented verification.’ He claims it’s not built on trust,” said the Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, “But the administration’s briefings on these side deals have been totally insufficient — and it still isn’t clear whether anyone at the White House has seen the final documents.”
But in an interview with the AP, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi questioned the significance of the disclosure, noting it relates to investigations of past military work, not nuclear dealings going forward. “I truly believe in this agreement,” she said.
And she asserted that House Democrats have the votes to uphold any Obama veto of a congressional resolution disapproving of the Iran agreement. Congress will vote next month on such a resolution, but if it is approved Obama has pledged to veto it. A two-thirds vote in the House and Senate would then be necessary to override him — a tough goal to reach even in a Congress controlled by Republicans who will likely oppose Obama unanimously.
“The president’s veto would be sustained” if the vote were held today, Pelosi said, adding she hopes it doesn’t get to that point. “But I feel very confident about it. … We will sustain the veto.”
The director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, reacted to the AP story with a statement Thursday defending the agreement the agency reached with Iran concerning the Parchin military site. He said he was disturbed that the AP report “suggested” that the IAEA has given responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran.
While noting the side deal is confidential, he said, “I can state that the arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices. They do not compromise our safeguards standards in any way.”
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman of Iran’s nuclear agency was quoted on state TV calling the AP report “media speculation” without denying its substance.
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 monitor Iranian personnel as they inspect the Parchin nuclear 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 get photo or video information from areas Iran says are off-limits because they have military significance.
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.