How can you verify the deal if you neuter the verifier?
If you ask me what the most important article in The New York Times of the past week, it would not be the front page editorial advocating stricter gun control. That editorial was important in terms of the mindset of the Times, but had little real new value.
The most significant new article in The New York Times during this past week was Friday’s analysis of the nuclear deal with Iran. The article is a devastating indictment of the administration and its zeal to reach a nuclear deal with Iran at all costs. To be sure the reporter, David Sanger, an excellent journalist, presented the administration’s positions respectfully. But there’s no getting around that however President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry justify their capitulations, they are willing to lift sanctions on Iran without requiring Iran to come clean about its past illicit nuclear research.
In the wake of last week’s IAEA report about Iran’s past nuclear research, the administration is reportedly satisfied that Iran has provided the IAEA with enough information to close the investigation into Iran’s past nuclear work and move ahead to the implementation of this summer’s nuclear deal. The administration’s rationale is that “preventing a nuclear-armed Iran in the future is far more important than trying to force it to admit” its past illicit nuclear research.
One problem with this approach is that, as Sanger puts it, it allows Iran to avoid answering questions that the administration “once insisted could not remain unaddressed.”
The more important issue though is the future. The administration has said that the deal is not based on trust but on verification. It would be up to the IAEA to verify Iran’s compliance in the future. But the IAEA report essentially said that Iran lied about its past nuclear research and verified that Iran was doing nuclear weapons research until 2009, 6 years later than previously believed.
Iran gave the IAEA enough information to reach this understanding but didn’t answer all the questions it was supposed to. Closing the investigation now would reward Iran for stonewalling (in addition to the billions it would reap in sanctions relief) and it would cut the IAEA off at the knees. As Sanger asked rhetorically, “If Iran could avoid fully answering many of the questions about 12 different technologies it was pursuing, will it be emboldened to stiff-arm inspectors as they seek to enforce the nuclear deal?”
An IAEA official told Sanger, “I worry we have created a poor precedent for the future.” The official added, “We have no way to force states to come clean, and never have.” Enforcement depends on the nations on IAEA’s board of governors. But despite the damning IAEA report, the United States is pushing the board of governors to end the investigation.
The administration’s zeal to end the investigation and get on with sanctions relief is opposed by a number of nuclear non-proliferation experts.
David Albright, a former weapons inspector and president of the Institute of Science and International Security, wrote in a paper (.pdf) last week (co-authored by Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, a research analyst at the institute) that “[the] Parchin file can in no way be considered closed. It should remain open and the IAEA should continue its investigation into the activities that took place at the site. It is time that Iran starts to admit what really happened at Parchin.”
Last week The Tower published an analysis by Emily Landau, head of the Arms Control Program at the Institute for National Security Studies, who argued that the IAEA report “must not be ignored, because it does break Iran’s narrative of having done no wrong in the nuclear realm.”
And Tuesday, Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director-general of the IAEA wrote in a report for the Foundation of Defense of Democracies that the IAEA report showed that Iran “Iran had a parallel clandestine weapons program.” The existence of this covert program means that the IAEA, can’t verify with high confidence that no undeclared activities exist” which would “complicate its ability to effectively monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.”
To some degree the administration acknowledges the IAEA’s conclusions. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that it had obtained the draft resolution the United States had drawn up urging them IAEA’s board of governors to close the investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities.
Although the tone of request to end the probe is dispassionate, Western diplomats familiar with the drafting of the document said some statements at the board meeting will be critical of what the U.S. and its allies continue to say were Iranian attempts to develop nuclear arms.
At the same time, they said, the language in the resolution had to be neutral and acceptable to the Iranians in order to be able to advance early next year to implementing the July 14 deal that promises sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for cuts in its nuclear programs.
The reporting here is incredible. The United States knows that Iran cheated but doesn’t want to offend it with harsh words. As I’ve written above, closing the IAEA’s investigation will render the IAEA ineffective in enforcing Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. But if the administration is concerned with sparing the Ayatollah’s feelings there is no way it would even ask the IAEA to investigate future suspicions.
If the United States won’t even use harsh language against Iran how can it be expected to enforce Iran’s compliance with the (admittedly weak) terms of the nuclear deal?
The administration’s abandonment of any means of verification of the nuclear deal, comes at the same time it is getting blasted for its failure to enforce resolutions against Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests, as Jonathan Levin blogged yesterday. Interestingly the administration’s failure to enforce the ballistic missile ban has been hit not only by Republicans (Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R – N.H.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R – Ill.)) but also Democrats (Rep. Joe Kennedy (D – Mass.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D – Fla.))
As Jonathan wrote:
There was always a risk that President Obama would opt to ignore Iranian violations that might further call into question the wisdom of his Iran policy, and that is precisely what has come to pass. Whether it is due to his misguided quest for rapprochement with Iran at all costs or unwillingness to concede his own mistakes, there is virtually no possibility that Obama will take action against Iran.
The repercussions are potentially disastrous. Iran will proceed with progressively more aggressive ballistic missile tests until either satisfied with the results or prevented from doing so. Iran will restart or continue an illicit nuclear weapons program impenetrable under the JCPOA’s feeble inspections regime, or merely wait out the JCPOA’s laughable 10-15 year sunset clause.
The United States cannot possibly ensure that Iran complies with even the JCPOA’s paltry requirements if it is unwilling even to acknowledge and denounce Iranian violations.
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