Via the Free Beacon. One of the side deals, as reported yesterday by National Review, has to do with inspections of the Parchin military base, where Iran has allegedly conducted bomb research in the past. (The agreement signed between the U.S. and Iran was conspicuously silent about Parchin.) The other has to do with Iran disclosing what it’s learned so far about building bombs after years of experimenting, something that John Kerry initially insisted was key to the agreement and then decided was irrelevant when Iran refused to disclose because, he claimed, the U.S. already knows what Iran’s been up to.
Do those side deals exist? If so, is it true that the terms of those deals “will not be vetted by any organization other than Iran and the IAEA, and will not be released even to the nations that negotiated the JCPOA [Iran nuclear agreement]”? If so, why should the U.S. Congress buy into a process that’s opaque on the most sensitive issues? The White House’s excuse, I assume, will be that the deals need to be kept quiet because they represent a cave by Iran on inspections, and if word of that got out back home, Iranian hardliners would blow up the deal. Given the fantastically generous terms of the nuclear agreement to Iran, does anyone seriously believe that?
Look at it this way: If the known terms of the deal are as terrible as this, how much more terrible must the secret part be?
Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz has insisted that Iran would not be able to hide traces of illicit nuclear work before inspectors gained access to a suspicious site. But several experts, including a former high-ranking official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said a provision that gives Iran up to 24 days to grant access to inspectors might enable it to escape detection.
Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the agency, said in an interview that while “it is clear that a facility of sizable scale cannot simply be erased in three weeks’ time without leaving traces,” the more likely risk is that the Iranians would pursue smaller-scale but still important nuclear work, such as manufacturing uranium components for a nuclear weapon…
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector in Iraq, also said that three weeks might be ample time for the Iranians to dispose of the evidence of prohibited nuclear work. Among the possibilities, he said, were experiments with high explosives that could be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, or the construction of a small plant to make centrifuges.
“If it is on a small scale, they may be able to clear it out in 24 days,” Mr. Albright said in a telephone interview. “They are practiced at cheating. You can’t count on them to make a mistake.”
An Energy Department official counters that uranium contamination at a site would be nearly possible to clean up in three weeks, guaranteeing that inspectors would figure out that something shady’s happening at the scene. Right, but (a) not all stages of the bomb-building process require the presence of uranium, so Iran could cheat on the parts that don’t, and (b) even if traces of uranium were found at a site, there’s almost no chance that that sort of violation would trigger “snapback sanctions.” That’s Stephen Carter’s point: Given that renewed sanctions are the only penalty imagined by the agreement, it’d take a much bigger smoking gun than “we found some uranium but don’t know where it came from” to get Europe to cut off Iran economically again. And all of this assumes that Iran really would have “only” 24 days to allow an inspection after being accused of cheating. According to Hillel Fradkin and Scooter Libby, the terms of the deal imagine a much longer time frame in some circumstances:
Opportunities for delay abound. Iran will presumably want to know what prompted the IAEA’s concern. The suspect site identified by the IAEA is likely to be remote, and Iran will no doubt say that it must gather skilled people and equipment to responsibly allay IAEA concerns. Iran may offer explanations in stages, seeking IAEA clarifications before “completing” its response. That could take a while.
Only if Iran’s “explanations do not resolve the IAEA’s concerns” may the IAEA then “request access” to the suspect site. Oddly, the agreement doesn’t specify who judges whether the explanations resolve concerns. If Iran claims that it has a say in the matter, the process may stall here. Assuming Iran grants that the IAEA can be the judge, might Iran claim that the “great Satan” improperly influenced IAEA conclusions? Let’s assume that Tehran won’t do that…
Now the IAEA must provide written reasons for the request and “make available relevant information.” Let’s assume that even though the IAEA may resist revealing the secret sources or technical means that prompted its suspicions, Iran acknowledges that a proper request has been supplied.
Only then do the supposed 24 days begin to run.
There are more delay opportunities during the dispute-resolution process, which, if Iran exploits them all, could postpone an inspection of a suspect site by months after an accusation of cheating’s been made. Could Iran clean up even a reasonably large enrichment site in that time span? Why not?
What on earth have we done?