Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

On Iran and North Korea: Don’t Trust, and Verify, Verify, Verify

| Mar. 27, 2018

RONALD REAGAN invoked the Russian proverb “trust, but verify” when negotiating nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union, but in recent negotiations with Iran and upcoming talks with North Korea, our North Star was and must be “don’t trust, and verify, verify, verify.”

The most robust verification measures the world has ever known are the heart of the Iran nuclear agreement, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The unique verification regime developed to monitor Iran goes well beyond what any other nation is subject to under the nuclear safeguards system established by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that countries don’t divert nuclear materials from peaceful energy programs to build nuclear weapons.

Critics of the Iran agreement suggest that it creates a nuclear-armed Iran, simply delayed by 15 years. The facts say otherwise. The core of the Iran agreement is an explicit commitment from Iran that it will never seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons, accompanied by permanent prohibitions on key nuclear weapons development activities and significantly expanded monitoring of Iranian compliance. The monitoring requirement is nothing like the inadequate verification that was in place in Iran in the past, because Iran must permanently accept an IAEA regime that allows inspectors access to any site suspected of housing prohibited nuclear weapons-related activities, including military sites.

Although other countries have signed up to allow IAEA inspectors access beyond acknowledged nuclear sites, only Iran is bound to grant access to suspect sites within a fixed period, less than a month. The IAEA and leading nuclear experts are confident that any uranium or plutonium, the materials necessary for nuclear weapons, can be detected within the access time frame. If Iran denies timely access to a suspected nuclear site, sanctions on Iran can be quickly snapped back in place, and the world will be required to enforce them. There is no sunset. In addition to the permanent requirements and restrictions, the Iran agreement put in place other extraordinary long-term arrangements, some out to 2041, for inspecting all of Iran’s nuclear-related activities, from uranium mining to the manufacture of centrifuge components.

Adherence to the agreement, and recognition of its rigorous verification regime, is especially important as President Trump heads toward a possible summit discussion with Kim Jong Un. There’s no question that there are many differences between negotiating with Iran and North Korea, given that North Korea has nuclear bombs and Iran does not. The Iran negotiations worked because the United States and its partners focused specifically on verifiably preventing a military nuclear program, while North Korea negotiations will succeed only if they address security issues comprehensively. Even with those differences, however, the verification approach in the Iran agreement should inform any negotiations with North Korea.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Moniz, Ernest.“On Iran and North Korea: Don’t Trust, and Verify, Verify, Verify.” The Boston Globe, March 27, 2018.

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