Kerry’s Invisible Bridge

By Editorial Board

The Wall Street Journal

August 26, 2015

The Secretary takes a leap of faith on Iran’s self-inspections.

Maybe we’ve been unduly harsh with John Kerry when it comes to the Iran deal. We’ve tried to judge the agreement according to the likelihood that it will thwart Tehran’s bid to get nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State, for his part, seems to be acting out the leap-of-faith scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

You know the one: Indy, standing at the edge of a bottomless abyss, sticks out his leg to discover an invisible bridge that will get him to the other side. On the other edge of the abyss lies—what else?—the Holy Grail.

In the Administration’s version of the scene, that invisible bridge is the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is supposed to provide the “unprecedented verification” that Mr. Kerry and President Obama insist is the key to the deal’s reliability. So total is the Secretary’s faith in the agency that he agreed to let it reach its own side deals with Iran over how to inspect the regime’s military sites, without him knowing the particulars of the arrangements.

Last week the Associated Press got hold of a near-final draft of one of the side deals, which revealed that the agency would allow Iran to do its own inspections—with its own personnel and equipment—of the military site at Parchin, where the regime is suspected to have previously carried out illicit work on weaponizing a nuclear device.

That includes providing the agency with a total of nine environmental samples. The closest IAEA personnel will get to Parchin is a courtesy visit to the site by the IAEA’s director general, followed by a “one-day technical roundtable.”

Defenders of the deal initially tried to claim the AP’s reporting was misleading, until the AP released the text of the agreement. Now the company line is that this is all no big deal. The issues “in some cases date back more than a decade,” says National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, as if it’s merely a matter of balancing some old books.

But knowing what Iran might have done at Parchin is crucial to determining how much time Iran would need to build a bomb. That’s a point on which Mr. Kerry was once unequivocal, as in the following April 2014 exchange with the PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff.

Ms. Woodruff: “Still, another issue: the International Atomic Energy Agency has said for a long time that it wants Iran to disclose past military-related nuclear activities. Iran is increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this. Is the U.S. prepared to accept that?”

Mr. Kerry: “No. They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. . . . It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.”

So much for that. As for the IAEA, Director General Yukiya Amano insists the arrangements “are technically sound and consistent with our-long established practices.” We’re not sure what practices he has in mind; Olli Heinonen, a former senior agency official, told AP he “could think of no similar concession with any other country.” Weaponization work also does not necessarily involve radioactive substances, so soil-sampling won’t be of much use to finding out exactly what Iran has done at Parchin.

We’ll cut Mr. Amano some slack since his agency must accept whatever mandate it is given by the countries that negotiated the overall deal. Nor does it have any power to enforce the side agreements deals it has reached with Iran, other than to issue periodic reports. Tehran is already warning the agency that it will “not accept” any leaks of its agreements. That shows how dependent the agency will be on the mullahs’ acquiescence to get anything done, insofar as the IAEA doesn’t have the backing of the United States and other Western powers to demand full access to the regime’s sites.

The Obama Administration is required by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed with overwhelming majorities in May, to provide Congress with a complete accounting of all of the terms of the deal, including “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements.”

A bipartisan Congress fought hard last spring to require President Obama to sign that law. Now Congress should insist that the President abide by the law and release the other side deal—or deals. If the Administration is so proud of the agreement it struck with Iran, it should be willing to disclose its full terms.