Why Those Secret Iran Side Deals Matter
It is past time to disclose and explain Iran’s secret deals with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Although the White House has downplayed the importance of these arrangements, calling them “side deals,” they raise questions that go to the heart of President Obama’s claim that the agreement the six leading powers struck with Iran will deny it a bomb for at least 10 to15 years. These “side” understandings are crucial to evaluating the potential effectiveness of the July agreement, although Secretary of State John Kerry claims not to have read them. A draft of one of them has leaked to the Associated Press, but it raises more questions than it answers.
The side deals spell out how Teheran must proceed to answer the IAEA’s questions about the “possible military dimensions,” known in the trade as PMD, of Iran’s nuclear program, and procedures for inspecting the Parchin military base, where some of that work is alleged to have occurred. The PMDs concern 12 activities the IAEA alleges Iran undertook that can only plausibly be explained as nuclear weapons development, some of which the agency asserts may be ongoing. Without understanding who carried out those activities, and where and when they occurred, the IAEA will be unable to know how far Iran got with its earlier alleged efforts to build a bomb or to establish a baseline to guide the new verification efforts under the main deal. In other words, without that information the IAEA will be unable to verify that Iran is no longer cheating and will not resume such efforts.
On Wednesday, the AP reported that the side deal permits Iran to use its own inspectors to investigate a site where the agency suspects that weapons-related work occurred. If true, this would be like letting Iran take an “inspection selfie.” Worse, it would enable Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, to continue claiming that all of his military installations will be off limits to IAEA inspectors. Banning inspectors from suspect military sites would make a mockery of the verification measures hailed by Obama as “the most robust and intrusive . . . ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”
Although IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano called the AP’s story “misleading,” saying he was “disturbed by statements suggesting that the IAEA has given responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran,” he declined to specify the inspection procedures or to disclose the agreements governing them. The draft document published by the AP supports its assertion that Iran will provide photographs, videos, and environmental samples to the IAEA. The document does not detail how the IAEA would oversee collecting such data to ensure it is not tampered with. Would IAEA inspectors be on site when Iranians collect samples and take photos? Would they supervise such collection remotely? How would a chain of custody be preserved to ensure the validity of the evidence? Does this arrangement mean that Iranian military facilities are immune from IAEA inspection? We don’t know, and neither Secretary Kerry nor the IAEA will say.
Moreover, former IAEA official Tariq Rauf has questioned the AP document’s authenticity. This only makes the case for releasing the actual documents more compelling, because the debate on the overall agreement should be based on facts, not misinformation.
Secretary Kerry opposes releasing the deals “because we respect the process of the IAEA and we don't have their authorization to reveal what is a confidential agreement between them and another country.”
The law creating the IAEA states that agency employees must protect a country’s “industrial secrets or other confidential information.” Yet, although such inspection arrangements usually remain confidential, there are three reasons why they should not in this case.
First, Iran’s commercial and industrial secrets—or even military secrets—are unlikely to be revealed by publishing the IAEA’s side agreements. Confidentiality regarding safeguards mainly covers proprietary and economic information, not approaches, said Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s former chief inspector.
Second, while such side deals are normally secret, the Iran agreement is far from a normal case. Both the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council concluded that Tehran violated its earlier Safeguards obligations on numerous occasions over an extended period of time. Moreover, Iran, under its earlier commitments, was supposed to let the IAEA visit Parchin with 24 hours’ notice. Yet the agency has been waiting years for access, while Iran has conducted a massive cleanup at the location.
Third, the overarching deal removing sanctions on Iran was struck by seven nations and the European Union—not just by Iran and the IAEA.
Understanding how the IAEA and Teheran intend to resolve differences over the possible military dimensions of Iran’s program and ensuring access to suspect sites are crucial to evaluating the overall agreement. Secretary Kerry promised that the former issue would be resolved before a final agreement was concluded. Now, it will not be settled until December 15, 2015, and even that is doubtful. So Congress is being asked to approve the Iran agreement without knowing whether or not the IAEA will have the information it needs to monitor Iran effectively. To avoid this, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires that Congress receives all relevant documents including any agreements “entered into or made between Iran and any other parties.”
The Congress should either delay a final vote until it knows how these issues have been resolved, or condition its approval of the deal on the resolution of these issues. Not only would this encourage a more rational debate about the deal’s virtues and weaknesses, it would strengthen the IAEA in its negotiations with Iran.