Iran’s Idea of a ‘Snap’ Inspection: 24 Days’ Notice

Patrick Goodenough | May 21, 2015 | 4:09am EDT
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An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector at work. (Photo: IAEA)

( – Lifting a lid on the confidential negotiations for a final Iran nuclear agreement, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius disclosed Wednesday that Tehran wants to be given 24 days’ notice ahead of any inspection of its nuclear facilities.

“A lot of things can disappear” in 24 days, the Associated Press quoted him as saying of Iran’s reported insistence that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wait for that length of time between a report of a suspected violation and inspectors’ admission to a site.

Fabius was speaking on French foreign policy challenges at a Paris-based think tank, the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

Non-proliferation experts argue that “snap” inspections – also known as “anywhere, anytime” inspections – will need to be a cornerstone of any effective agreement, given Iran’s history of nuclear-related violations and non-cooperation with the IAEA.

Fabius’ revelation drew some derisive responses on social media.

“It was a typo,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) vice president for research Jonathan Schanzer deadpanned in Twitter. “Everyone really meant span inspections. As in, over a span of unspecified time.”

“Watch Iran agree to < 24 days’ notice on inspections & admin declare this a victory,” said FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz, also on Twitter, adding that that has been the “[n]egotiating trajectory so far.”

Fabius’ remark comes seven weeks after President Obama described the regime of nuclear inspections which Iran would be subjected to under a final deal as unprecedented, saying that the Iranians had “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”

Obama was speaking on April 2, the day when Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – concluded an interim “framework” agreement that is meant to form the basis for a final deal due for completion by June 30.

Speaking at the talks venue in Lausanne, Switzerland the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry said the parties had agreed that inspectors have “regular access to all of Iran’s declared facilities indefinitely,” and that “in addition, Iran has agreed to allow IAEA to investigate any suspicious site or any allegations of covert nuclear activities anywhere.”

Since the April 2 “framework” announcement, Iranian officials from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei down have repeatedly rejected the administration’s assertion that it had agreed to give inspectors access to military facilities – as opposed to declared nuclear sites – a stance underlined once more by Khamenei and his foreign minister on Wednesday.

Now it appears from Fabius’ comment that the Iranians are playing hardball on the question of access to its nuclear sites as well.

Throughout the marathon negotiations with Iran, France has consistently been seen as the most skeptical of the P5+1 group.

P5+1 negotiators have generally kept mum about the substance of the talks. Asked on Wednesday about Khamenei’s latest rejection of inspections of military sites, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf replied, “We’ve said we’re not going to negotiate in public before. We certainly aren’t going to start now and we certainly aren’t going to start responding to every comment by the supreme leader.”

Harf then went on to say that Iran and the U.S. had “agreed that we will undertake a process to address possible military dimensions, and part of that includes access [to sites].”

“And so obviously, that’s an ongoing topic of negotiation,” she continued, “but if we don’t get the assurances we need on the access to possible military dimension-related sites or activities, that’s going to be a problem for us, and we’ve said that.”

Harf also said that if negotiators fail to reach agreement by June 30 on “something that meets our bottom line for what we need in terms of access, we’re not going to sign a final deal. And that’s just something we’ve been very, very clear about.”

Institute for Science and International Security president David Albright told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing last March that Iran’s history of clandestine activities and non-cooperation had given rise to “a significant confidence deficit between Iran and much of the international community.”

As a result, any deal “must include legally-binding provisions that allow the IAEA to conduct snap inspections, or anywhere, anytime inspections,” he said, adding that that system should remain in place for about 20 years, until the IAEA had completed its investigations into the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear activities.

The PMD issue relates to suspicions that Iran has carried out work that has applications for the development of a nuclear bomb.

In 2011, the IAEA reported that there was “credible” evidence Iran had carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” until the end of 2003. It said there were indications some of those activities had continued after 2003 – and “may still be ongoing.”

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