Expert Says Iran Deal Must Guarantee Snap Inspections of Nuclear Sites

By Patrick Goodenough | March 25, 2015 | 7:13am EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif have been involved in marathon attempts in Switzerland to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by the end of March. (AP Photo, File)

( – A leading non-proliferation expert told lawmakers Tuesday that for a long-term nuclear deal with Iran to be adequately verified it must include binding guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be able to carry out snap inspections of facilities for about 20 years.

“A critical question is whether the agreement [now being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 group] establishes a verification regime adequate to promptly catch Iranian cheating,” Institute for Science and International Security President David Albright told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing.

Albright was testifying on the same day as a senior Iranian nuclear official was quoted as rebuking the IAEA’s chief for calling for snap inspections.

The U.S. and its P5+1 partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – are days away from a deadline for a political understanding on a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.

In his testimony, Albright said measures like guaranteed snap inspections over a two-decade period were needed because Iran’s unprecedented violations and long history of non-cooperation with the IAEA had given rise to “a significant confidence deficit between Iran and much of the international community.”

“Iran has delayed inspectors’ access to sites and extensively modified buildings or the sites themselves in apparent efforts to thwart IAEA verification methods.”

“Verification conditions in a long-term deal will likewise need to be rigorous, unprecedented, and long lasting,” he said.

Among them, Albright recommended that “a deal must include legally-binding provisions that allow the IAEA to conduct snap inspections, or anywhere, anytime inspections.”

These should be in place for about 20 years, he said, until the IAEA had satisfactorily completed its investigations into the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear activities.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki at Tuesday’s daily briefing declined to throw her support behind specific calls for “snap inspections,” characterizing it as “new terminology.”

But she agreed that “transparency and verification is an important component” of any agreement and that allowing inspections to be conducted “very quickly” was “part of what we would like to see, absolutely.”

In the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s latest report on Iran, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano wrote that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

A key PMD concern: Iran denies inspectors access to a suspect military site at Parchin, where it also appears to have carried out work which the agency says will make it more difficult to determine what has been going on there, even if they are admitted in the future.

More than a decade ago Iran signed an agreement – the “additional protocol” to its safeguards agreement under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which widens the IAEA’s rights of access to a signatory’s nuclear sites, including allowing inspectors to visit at short notice.

But Iran’s parliament never ratified it and the regime is not implementing it.

At an event in Washington on Monday, Amano urged Iran to implement the protocol, to enable the IAEA to “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”

Amano elaborated in an interview with PBS, saying the protocol gives the IAEA “access to the site which is not declared, for example, or we can request a short notice inspection to the country. These activities are very useful to detect undeclared activities.”

Asked whether any deal would be worth having if the IAEA is unable to get that type of access, he replied, “I think the implementation of the additional protocol is essential to have the confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran nuclear activities.”

Amano’s appeal for Iran to allow the snap inspections provided for under the protocol drew a sharp retort from Tehran.

The government’s nuclear spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Amano should stop commenting on matters relating to the nuclear negotiations that are beyond the scope of the IAEA’s periodic reports.

Iran was not obliged to implement the protocol since it is a voluntary undertaking, the IRNA state news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying.

Verification ‘vulnerability’

In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Albright warned of risks ahead.

“If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns now, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted, regardless of anything it may pledge today?” he said.

“Iran’s lack of clarity on alleged nuclear weaponization and its noncooperation with the IAEA, if accepted as part of a nuclear agreement, would create a large vulnerability in any future verification regime. Iran would have succeeded in creating precedents to deny inspectors access to key military facilities and individuals.”

And if Iran is therefore able to declare any particular site off-limits to inspectors, Albright said, “what better place to conduct clandestine, prohibited activities, such as uranium enrichment and weaponization?”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) raised similar concerns.

“If Iran won’t comply with the IAEA now, we’ll have an even harder time verifying its nuclear program if a comprehensive agreement is reached,” she said.

“This just goes to show what many of us fear, and what the administration continues to ignore: there is no way to fully monitor and verify Iran’s program, and that's why the only option must be a complete dismantling of its nuclear program.”

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