Iran to IAEA: No, You May Not Visit Our Military Sites

Patrick Goodenough | September 13, 2017 | 4:30am EDT
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IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, left, and Iran's Atomic Energy Organization president Ali Akhbar Salehi sign confidential documents in Vienna on July 14, 2015 which, among other things, dealt with how the agency would look into concerns about Iran's nuclear activities at a military site, Parchin. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

( – Iran on Tuesday rejected the notion that the U.N. nuclear watchdog has the right to request access to its military sites, calling into question again the Obama administration’s contention that it had negotiated with Tehran the “most robust and intrusive” regime of inspections ever.

Weeks after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley raised the issue during meetings with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials in Vienna, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano said Monday that in carrying out its duties under what’s known as the Additional Protocol, “we do not distinguish [between] civilian locations – sites – and military.”

Speaking to reporters in Vienna, Amano stressed that that principle “applies to all countries, including Iran.”

But on Tuesday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s senior foreign affairs adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, directly disputed that.

“We have never agreed with anybody to let inspectors visit our military sites,” Iranian state media quoted him as saying.

“Mr. Amano, his agents and no other foreigners have the right to inspect our military sites, because these sites are among off-limit sites for any foreigner and those affiliated with them,” he said.

Velayati, a former foreign minister, added that no agreement endorsed by Iran had included permission for inspectors to visit Iranian military sites, adding that Iran would never have signed any agreement including that condition.

Going further, he said Amano’s claim that the agency has the right to request access to military sites was “a fabrication of his own.”

When it reached the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other countries in 2015, Iran also undertook to implement the “Additional Protocol” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows IAEA inspectors access to facilities that raise concerns.

In selling the JCPOA to the American people and Congress, the Obama White House frequently pointed to the Additional Protocol arrangement as a further defense against Iranian cheating on its obligations.

“[I]f IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol  … which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious,” it said in one fact sheet.

In another, the White House elaborated.

“In an instance where the IAEA has a question about an undeclared location outside Iran’s declared nuclear program, the IAEA will be able to request access under the Additional Protocol (AP), which Iran will implement as part of the JCPOA,” it said.

“Access under the Additional Protocol will be used by the IAEA to verify at undeclared sites that no unapproved nuclear activity is occurring. Military and other sensitive sites are not exempt from the AP.”

Amano’s comments at a press briefing Monday came after a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.

He told that meeting that the agency “will continue to implement the Additional Protocol in Iran, including carrying out complementary accesses to sites and other locations, as we do in other countries with Additional Protocols.”

Amano declined to put a number to the so-called complementary access visits it has asked to carry out in Iran since the JCPOA’s implementation day in January 2016, but he said there had been “many.”

Citing confidentiality requirements, he also would not say, in response to a question, whether any of those “many” access visits had been to military sites.

‘Most robust and intrusive ... ever’

Shortly before the JCPOA was finalized, President Obama in April 2015 said Iran had “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”

The Trump administration is now reviewing U.S. policy towards Iran, including the national security implications of the lifting of sanctions under the JCPOA.

As part of that review, Haley visited the IAEA last month and raised questions about inspectors’ access to military sites, among other things.

For more than a decade before the JCPOA was concluded, Iran refused to allow the IAEA access to sites including one at Parchin, an installation near Tehran where the agency suspected the Iranians had tested high explosive components for a nuclear weapon.

Under the JCPOA, Iran undertook to work with the IAEA to resolve questions about so-called “possible military dimension” (PMD) issues – that is, whether Iran at any time had carried out work with applications for developing an atomic bomb.

Iran’s negotiating partners agreed that the PMD questions could not be resolved without a visit to Parchin.

“Iran has committed, as a condition of the JCPOA, to provide the information and access the IAEA needs to complete its investigation of PMD and issue its independent assessment,” the White House said in its JCPOA factsheet.

“Appropriate access will be given to Parchin,” it added.

That “access,” when it came, was highly controversial: Under conditions agreed on between the IAEA and Iran in a confidential “side deal” to the JCPOA, Iranian officials were allowed to supply the agency with photos, video and samples from Parchin – with no IAEA physically present.

Shortly thereafter, Amano and his deputy paid a brief “courtesy” visit to Parchin. The Obama White House pointed to that visit as evidence that Iran had met its commitment to open up the military site to the IAEA.

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