Analysis & Opinions - The Wall Street Journal

The Iranian Nuclear-Inspection Charade

| July 15, 2015

In the months leading up to Tuesday’s announcement of a nuclear agreement with Iran, American proponents and skeptics of the deal at least agreed on one thing: the importance of “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

On the skeptical side, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) said on June 30: “The standard needs to be ‘go anywhere, anytime’—not go ‘some places, sometimes.’ ” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that same day called for “complete agreement on ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections.”

On the Obama administration side, there was Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in April saying, “We expect to have anywhere, anytime access.” And Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes also in April saying: “In the first place we will have anytime, anywhere access [to] nuclear facilities.”

Yet in announcing the deal this week, President Obama said inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency “will have access where necessary, when necessary.”

Note the distinction: Agreeing on what is “necessary” is going to be a preoccupation of the new inspections regime. No wonder Mr. Rhodes was on CNN on Wednesday denying that negotiators had ever sought anytime, anywhere inspections.

Under the deal’s terms, when the IAEA demands access to a suspect site, Iran will have 14 days to fulfill the request or propose other means to satisfy it. If the matter remains unresolved, a joint commission with representatives from each of the eight parties to the agreement would have a further week to act, and Iran would then be given three days to comply. Thus, 24 days might elapse between a request for access by the IAEA and a requirement upon Iran to provide it—ample time for Iran to hide or destroy evidence.

Many observers now are in despair over how far short the nuclear agreement falls of the “anywhere, anytime” standard. But the promise of what such unfettered access could accomplish was always a chimera. Much more would be required for any attempt to monitor Iran’s nuclear program to be a success.

Verifying Iran’s nuclear-safeguards obligations to the IAEA could never have been accomplished solely with anywhere, anytime inspections. Iran is too vast and its government too practiced at denying information and deceiving inspectors for such an Easter egg hunt to succeed.

For inspections to be meaningful, Iran would have to completely and correctly declare all its relevant nuclear activities and procurement, past and present. Veteran CIA nuclear-verification expert John Lauder recently told me that data declarations are “most important because they help set the stage for all other measures.” As former IAEA chief inspector Olli Heinonen told the New York Times last year: “You don’t need to see every nut and bolt, but you are taking a heck of a risk if you don’t establish a baseline of how far they went.”

Tehran should already have made a full declaration under its obligations that predated the Tuesday accord, but the IAEA has found that Iran repeatedly failed to do so. Moreover, the agency as far back as November 2011 identified 12 areas of Iranian activities that could only be explained by nuclear-weapons development, calling them the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program.

Despite repeated IAEA efforts to investigate these matters, and Iranian promises to cooperate, Tehran blocked meaningful progress. Now the new agreement calls again on Iran to cooperate, but it offers no reason to believe that the Iranian regime will end its recalcitrance.

For inspectors to do their job, they require access to supporting records and knowledgeable individuals. They would need to examine invoices, lab notes, personnel files, organization charts, production inventories, building plans and other documents supporting the declaration—assuming one is ever provided—and to discuss the material with scientists and program managers. As former United Nations and U.S. weapons inspector David Kay recently explained to me: “Unfettered access to people and documents is required to tell inspectors what to look for and where to go.”

From there, the inspectors—in a genuine nuclear-inspections program—would construct a comprehensive mosaic of Iran’s nuclear programs, overt and covert. Tile by tile, they would pursue missing pieces, and flag false or inconsistent ones for closer scrutiny. This would have to proceed until the IAEA concluded that it has a complete and correct declaration covering all nuclear-related activities. The IAEA needs to probe gaps and inconsistencies, which are often more difficult to hide than covert enrichment facilities.

The anywhere, anytime inspections ideal is also misleading because, as a practical matter, such inspections would be impossible in Iran. The regime will always have the power to deny inspectors access to a suspect site. Inspectors are few; minders are many, and backed by an army. If the IAEA requested admittance to a site where covert weapons work had been conducted, Tehran would simply find an excuse to deny it—as has apparently occurred at Parchin, where past inspection requests yielded only elaborate cleanup efforts.

A successful Iran nuclear agreement would have required far more than anywhere, anytime inspections, let alone the delayed, managed access with a 24-day duration provided under the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama hailed on Tuesday. What was essential is now conspicuously missing: Tehran’s submission of a complete and correct nuclear declaration, and the regime’s cooperation with IAEA efforts to verify it. Anything short of that is an illusion.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Tobey, William H..“The Iranian Nuclear-Inspection Charade.” The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2015.

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