The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler asks, “Did the United Nations demand Iran suspend uranium enrichment as part of a final deal?

At issue are statements made by Senators Robert Menendez and Bob Corker about Iran’s right to enrich on the Sunday morning talks shows.

Kessler, for example, took exception to Corker’s response here:

CBS NEWS’S JOHN DICKERSON: Senator Corker, is it a red line for you? You talked about the standards of any ultimate deal. Is enrichment of any kind by Iran, is that something everybody should stay focused on? That any deal that includes that is a non-starter for you, because, of course, the Iranians say that they expect to be able to keep enriching?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-Tenn.): Yes, so to me that’s a baseline that the U.N. Security Council has agreed to, I think, six times, certainly this administration negotiated that in 2010. So they negotiated that in 2010. So as long as they can enrich, it seems to me that we are violating the very standards that we set in place in the first place.
– exchange on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 1, 2013

Kessler didn’t hand out any Pinnochios to the senators but still found fault with their responses:

With their comments, Menendez and Corker might have left viewers with the impression that the U.N. resolutions already require a suspension of enrichment in any final agreement. That’s not the case — though it can certainly be an ongoing demand.

The administration, for its part, appears to have set that goal aside in an effort to keep the diplomacy moving. The lawmakers are certainly within their rights to call attention to this decision, but they should be more precise in their language about what the U.N. resolutions actually require. Given that they were speaking on live television and this is a complex issue, their comments, at this point, do not yet rise to the level of a Pinocchio.

Perhaps the senators were a bit sloppy, but I think the question asked of them was misleading. The question shouldn’t have been whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium as part of any final agreement, but whether Iran would prove that its nuclear program was strictly civilian.

In introducing his analysis, Kessler wrote:

Even though Tehran briefly suspended enrichment in 2004-2005, an acknowledgment of this “right” has been a central goal of its negotiators.

As a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran had a point. There is a right to a peaceful program that meets the nonproliferation requirements of the treaty — but developing the program in secret is a violation of the NPT.

Yes there’s “a right to a peaceful program,” but Iran over the years has acted in ways to suggest quite strongly that its nuclear program is not peaceful. That is why there are six Security Council resolutions concerned with Iran’s nuclear program.

Last year non-proliferation expert, Emily Landau summed up the problem:

The suspicions that have arisen with regard to Iran’s nuclear program are strong in all of the aforementioned categories, and because waiting until there is evidence of a bomb means waiting until it is too late, this is the kind of evidence that must be taken as indication that Iran has worked on a military program and continues on that route today. Stopping uranium enrichment should thus not be considered a confidence-building measure on Iran’s part. Rather, it is a requirement, until Iran abandons its military program. Iran is not being discriminated against – it has no inalienable right to enrich.

As Kessler acknowledged, its nuclear program was started in secret. Even now the New York Times recently reported:

True rollback would mean dismantling many of those centrifuges, shipping much of the fuel out of the country or converting it into a state that could not be easily adapted to bomb use, and allowing inspections of many underground sites where the C.I.A., Europe and Israel believe hidden enrichment facilities may exist. There is no evidence of those facilities now, but, as a former senior Obama administration official said recently, speaking anonymously to discuss intelligence, “there has never been a time in the past 15 years or so when Iran didn’t have a hidden facility in construction.”

But there are other elements too.

Iran is believed to have tested a nuclear trigger at its Parchin military complex. It has asphalted the area, making detection of any such experimentation difficult. Yet it still will not allow inspections of the site.

Iran’s Arak reactor is designed to produce weapons grade plutonium leading Jeremy Bernstein to observe, “By going ahead with a heavy water reactor, Iran seems to be saying it is determined to have the capacity to produce plutonium—and leave open a path to making a bomb.”

Given Iran’s secret development of its nuclear program; the likelihood that it still possesses secret facilities that are currently unknown to the IAEA; that it likely tested nuclear triggers; and that it is building a plant to produce weapons grade plutonium, it should be assumed that until Iran proves otherwise that it is developing a nuclear weapons capability. (Not to mention that Iran has an advanced ballistic missile program: missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload.) Given this likelihood Iran should have to prove that it has no more secret facilities, allow an unsupervised inspection of Parchin and dismantle the Arak reactor before it is allowed to resume any enrichment.

Iran’s subterfuges about its nuclear program are why it was referred to the Security Council. The Security Council resolutions were passed because Iran violated the terms of its commitment to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Because of these violations Iran should be assumed to have a military nuclear program and thus be forbidden to enrich until it satisfied the IAEA and Security Council of its peaceful program.

The Geneva agreement promises a mutually agreed upon level of civilian enrichment as part of a final deal. It doesn’t address any Iran’s questionable nuclear activities. What Iran wants from a permanent deal is the right to enrich without having to prove its peaceful intentions, short-circuiting the Security Council resolutions. The interim Geneva deal means that they will effectively do that. That was what Senators Menendez and Corker meant. Geneva effectively means that Iran doesn’t have to comply with the Security Council demands in order to claim its right to enrich.

This isn’t just how a critic views the Geneva agreement; this is how the Iranian government views it:

The Geneva deal between Iran and P5+1 severely undermines the UN Security Council resolutions against Iran, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs and top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi said, Mehr news agency reported on Dec. 2.

Iran wanted to undermine the Security Council resolutions focused on its nuclear program. The Geneva Accord helped them do just that.

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