Iran’s Secret Self-Inspections

Wall Street Journal

August 19, 2015

Three more Senators have declared against President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in recent days, and don’t be surprised if more follow after Wednesday’s bombshell from the Associated Press. The news service reports that Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors at the secret Parchin nuclear site under its secret side agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

This is a new one in the history of arms control. Parchin is the military complex long suspected as the home of Iran’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile development. The IAEA has sought access to Parchin for more than a decade, and U.S. officials have said the deal requires Iran to come clean about Parchin by agreeing on an inspections protocol with the IAEA by the end of this year.

But that spin started to unravel three weeks ago with the discovery that the Parchin inspections were part of a secret side agreement between the IAEA and Iran—not between Iran and the six negotiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry has said he hasn’t read the side deal, though his negotiating deputy Wendy Sherman told MSNBC that she “saw the pieces of paper” but couldn’t keep them. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has told Members of the U.S. Congress that he’s bound by secrecy and can’t show them the side deals.

That secrecy should be unacceptable to Congress—all the more so after the AP dispatch. The news service says it has seen a document labelled “separate arrangement II.” The document says Iran will provide the IAEA with photos and locations that the IAEA says are linked to Iran’s weapons work, “taking into account military concerns.”

In other words, the country that lied for years about its nuclear weapons program will now be trusted to come clean about those lies. And trusted to such a degree that it can limit its self-inspections so they don’t raise “military concerns” in Iran.

Keep in mind that the side deal already excludes a role for the U.S., and that the IAEA lacks any way to enforce its side deal since it has no way of imposing penalties for violations. Iran has also already ruled out any role for American or Canadian nationals on the inspection teams.

Why not cut out the IAEA middle man and simply let Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, sign a personal affadavit?

The AP report hadn’t been contradicted by our deadline on Wednesday, and a White House spokesman told AP merely that the U.S. is “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program.” That sounds like a confirmation.

The news raises further doubts about a nuclear pact that is already leaking credibility. Unfettered access to Parchin is crucial to understanding Iran’s past nuclear work, which is essential to understanding how close Iran has come to getting the bomb. Without that knowledge it’s impossible to know if Iran really is a year or more away from having the bomb, which is the time period that Mr. Kerry says is built into the accord and makes it so worth doing.

Earlier this year President Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which says Congress must receive all documents related to the deal, including any “entered into or made between Iran and any other parties.” That has to mean the IAEA.

By the way, the reference in the IAEA document to “separate arrangement II” suggests there may be more than one side deal. Congress should insist on seeing every such side deal or else pass a resolution of disapproval on the principle that it can’t possibly approve a deal whose complete terms it hasn’t even been allowed to inspect.

Meanwhile, bipartisan opposition continues to build in Congress. New Jersey DemocratRobert Menendez on Tuesday became the second Senate Democrat to oppose the deal, following announcements from Republicans Jeff Flake (Arizona) and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker. Mr. Flake in particular was inclined to support the pact and was lobbied hard by the President.

“For me, the Administration’s willingness to forgo a critical element of Iran’s weaponization—past and present—is inexplicable,” said Mr. Menendez in explaining his opposition. “Our willingness to accept this process on Parchin is only exacerbated by the inability to obtain anytime, anywhere inspections, which the Administration always held out as one of those essential elements we would insist on and could rely on in any deal.”

Public opposition is also growing. And it will increase as Americans learn that the deal’s inspections include taking Iran’s word about its previous weaponization work at its most crucial nuclear-weapons site.