(CNSNews.com) – The White House says it is “confident” in the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s plans to investigate the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program – plans which, according to an Associated Press report, include allowing the Iranians themselves to inspect one of the most controversial sites linked to the program.
The arrangements are laid out in an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran which, by its own admission, the Obama administration does not have in its possession. On the grounds that such bilateral agreements are customarily confidential, the administration also has refused to make the side agreements available to lawmakers reviewing the overall Iran nuclear deal.
The site in question is a military installation at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where Iran is suspected to have carried out nuclear-weapons related work.
The AP report cites a leaked IAEA-Iran document, entitled “separate arrangement II,” that allows Iran “to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence of activities it has consistently denied – trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
“Iran is to provide agency experts with photos and videos of locations the IAEA says are linked to the alleged weapons work, ‘taking into account military concerns,’” AP reports.
“That wording suggests that – beyond being barred from physically visiting the site – the agency won't get photo or video information from areas Iran says are off-limits because they have military significance,” it says.
The claims drew strong reactions from congressional Republican critics of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), already troubled by the fact the administration has not provided lawmakers with the IAEA-Iran documents.
“This type of unorthodox agreement has never been done before by the IAEA and speaks to the great lengths our negotiators took to accommodate the ayatollah [supreme leader Ali Khamenei] despite repeated assurances from the administration that this deal is not based on trust,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who authored the bipartisan legislation providing for Congress to review and vote on the JCPOA.
Corker said the IAEA-Iran agreement has not been provided to Congress or the administration “even though it is integral to Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement.”
GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the deal “a farce,” tweeting, “Nuclear inspections of state sponsors of terrorism can’t work on the honor system.”
But the administration pushed back on the criticism.
“As we’ve said before, including in classified briefings for both chambers of Congress, we’re confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program – issues that in some cases date back more than a decade,” said a White House statement, also read out by State Department spokesman John Kirby at his daily briefing.
“Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with arrangements which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities,” the statement added.
Kirby declined to confirm or deny the reported contents of the leaked document, but said that Secretary of State John Kerry has said “he’s very comfortable that the regime that is put in place – the inspection and access regime that’s going to be put into place, without getting into the details of it – will be able to address all the concerns about Iranian PMD and make sure that they are meeting their end of the deal.”
Although the administration statement referred to Iran’s “former” program and “historical activities,” and underlined the fact that some PMD issues “date back more than a decade,” the IAEA’s long-stymied Iran investigations deal not just with actions that occurred in the past, but also those that may be currently ongoing.
The very name of the main confidential side agreement signed by the IAEA and Iran in Vienna on July 14 makes that clear: It is the “Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program.”
As part of that understanding, the IAEA and Iran agreed to a “separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.”
Additional protocol does not exclude military bases from inspections
In defending the JCPOA, the administration has frequently responded to concerns about the 10-15 year sunset clause by pointing out that some key elements of the deal will last “forever.”
Among these, Secretary of State John Kerry and others have stated, are Iran’s commitment to implement the “additional protocol” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows IAEA inspectors access to a country’s nuclear facilities.
But the additional protocol (AP) does not permit a country that is designated under the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state to exclude any site from inspections – including military bases.
In a recent study of the IAEA’s verification of the JCPOA Thomas Shea, who served for 24 years in the IAEA’s safeguards department, writes that “[t]he AP is intended to allow expanded access to information, places and people, to any location within a state when the IAEA has questions regarding the nature of the activities underway. It meant to enable easy access to any location within a state when the IAEA has questions regarding the nature of the activities under way – in effect, to detect clandestine activities.”
Shea goes on to state, “Note that there are no blanket exemptions for any type of installations, including military bases in the AP, and the IAEA has carried out inspections on military bases in several states.”
Concerns about activities at Parchin and elsewhere were aired in a Nov. 2011 IAEA report that referred to “credible” evidence that Iran carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” as part of a “structured program” until the end of 2003. It said there were indications that some of those activities had continued after 2003 and “may still be ongoing.”
“The agency is concerned because some of the activities undertaken after 2003 would be highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program,” it said.
Among the alleged PMD activities identified in that report, some of it carried out at Parchin, was work on detonator designs, including detonator devices that could be used in a nuclear weapon and could fit in a ballistic missile warhead.
The report said the Iranians were believed to have worked on a project aimed at fitting a “spherical payload” into a missile’s payload chamber.
Iran has dismissed the allegations, claiming them to have been trumped up by its foes, including the U.S. and Israel.
But it has also for years refused to allow IAEA inspectors access to Parchin, and there have been signs of alleged efforts to cover up evidence there.