The international nuclear deal with Iran now in the final stages of negotiation must be verifiable and cannot be based on trust, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday.
Asked during a talk to Army troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, why the United States is seeking a nuclear agreement with Iran when the regime has a "history of not complying with prior signed treaties," Carter said:
"The president said he only want’s a good deal. So they’re talking and we’ll see" if an accord is concluded.
"A good deal has a few things it must have within it; one of them is it has to be verifiable," Carter said. "That is we have to be able to know the Iranians are taking the steps that the agreement calls for to not get a nuclear weapon."
The defense secretary said, "We can’t do that based on trust."
Carter compared the nuclear deal with Iran to arms negotiations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War when the United States did not trust Moscow to comply with provisions of arms control pacts.
Thus the government sought to reach agreements that could be verified through such measures as on-site inspections and intelligence satellites.
"If it’s not verifiable, we’re not going to agree to it, and that’s one of several things that are critical to it."
Carter said he did not know whether the Iranians would agree to the verification provisions of the pending deal but if they do not "there won’t be a deal, because it can’t be based on trust."
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act signed into law in April requires the administration to present a verification assessment of the nuclear deal five days after an agreement is reached.
The interim agreement announced in April calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran nuclear’s facilities, its supply network, uranium mines and mills, and centrifuges. The framework also states that Iran will put in place an "agreed set of measures" to deal with military nuclear arms work.
However, Iranian officials have said all military facilities will remain off limits to inspectors.
The comments by Carter reflect the latest in a series of statements by Obama administration officials indicating a growing likelihood that the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached in April between Iran and six nations will not produce a final agreement to limit Iran’s illegal uranium enrichment program. The six states include the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France.
A deadline for ending the talks was previously extended three times as Iran has refused to agree to key elements of the deal, including inspections of military sites where nuclear weapons activity was detected in the past.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been leading the talks with Iran for the United States, on Thursday defended the additional extension of a deadline in the nuclear talks.
"We’re here because we believe we are making real progress toward a comprehensive deal," Kerry said. "But as I have said many times and as I discussed with President Obama last night, we are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever."
A nuclear accord must "withstand the test of time," he said, and noted that "some tough issues remain unresolved."
Asked how long the talks could go on, Kerry said: "I’ve just said this is not open-ended. President Obama made it very clear to me last night we can’t wait forever for the decisions to be made. We know that. If the tough decisions don’t get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process."
Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst, State Department arms control official, and former staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said gathering intelligence on rogue state nuclear programs is difficult.
"Even with a robust verification regime, Iran could have a secret nuclear site that might not be detected," Fleitz said.
A robust verification regime for the accord must include "anytime, anywhere inspections of all declared and suspect nuclear sites including military sites."
Iran must answer all questions about its military programs, he said.
Current verification provisions will be "cumbersome" and would give Iran time to remove evidence of nuclear work from suspect sites.
"My bottom line is that the verification procedures that reportedly will be in a nuclear deal with Iran will be too weak for the international community to have confidence that Iran is in compliance," Fleitz said, adding that all facilities will not be included, "snap" short-notice inspections will not be permitted, and Iran will not account for all nuclear work with weapons.
Paula A. DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance in the George W. Bush administration, said Iran has been violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for over 30 years.
"Its nuclear program has been found to be for the purposes of acquiring or manufacturing nuclear weapons and not, as Iran has consistently claimed, to be for peaceful purposes," DeSutter said in a recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
DeSutter said that any nuclear agreement will commit Tehran to implementing treaty obligations "it has already violated and will be permitted to continue its nuclear program, albeit at a modified pace."
Administration spokesmen have said the Iran deal, whose details remain secret, will include "unprecedented" verification provisions.
John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and undersecretary of state for arms control, said Iran’s leaders for decades "have consistently stonewalled and lied to the IAEA, and taken extraordinary measures to conceal their nuclear weapons efforts."
"There is no evidence whatever that they have now taken a strategic direction to reverse course," Bolton said. "In fact, all of the evidence is that they are doubling down. Iran will start violating this deal before the ink is dry in Vienna. It's just one of many reasons why this deal is a diplomatic Waterloo for the United States."