International inspectors trying to determine whether Iran is conducting secret nuclear activities at its military sites will have to rely on material evidence provided by the Iranian government, according to a senator who attended a closed-door briefing with administration officials last week.
Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) said at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Thursday that Iran would be responsible for collecting its own samples from its military complex Parchin to turn over to international inspectors for nuclear residue testing.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and U.S. officials would not be allowed to independently collect the samples under the current agreement, Risch said.
Iran has been accused of carrying out nuclear detonations testing at Parchin, and the compound is at the center of an IAEA investigation into "possible military dimensions" of Iran’s nuclear program.
The hearing, which followed a classified briefing with administration officials earlier last week, was attended by Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
"Let me tell you the worst thing about Parchin," Risch said at the hearing. "What you guys agreed to was, we can't even take samples there. IAEA can't take samples there. They're going to be able to test by themselves. Even the NFL wouldn't go along with this."
When pressed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) about whether this was accurate, Kerry said it was part of "a classified component" of the agreement that he could not publicly discuss.
"It's supposed to be discussed in a classified session," Kerry said. "It's part of a confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran as to how they do that. The IAEA has said they are satisfied they will be able to do this in a way that does not compromise their needs and that adequately gets the answers they need."
Senators at the hearing expressed alarm at the alleged arrangement.
"If that is true, that would be the equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop," Menendez said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said it was "very disappointing" that the administration has not turned over all of the details of the IAEA’s agreement with Iran.
"We don't have a copy of the agreement to ascertain on behalf of the American people whether the IAEA process, which, again, you should go look into this part of it, has any integrity," Corker said.
The news provoked concerns on Capitol Hill over the lack of verification mechanisms in the nuclear deal.
"Where there’s smoke, there’s fire," a senior GOP congressional staffer said. "This is clearly an issue that’s not going to go away."
Iran policy experts said such an agreement would also undercut trust in the IAEA.
"It’s a basic problem of chain of custody—heavy on the ‘trust’ and light on the ‘verify,’" Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said. "If Iran has nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t object to such sampling by the international agency charged with carrying out such inspections everywhere in the world.
"Opacity on any aspect of the inspections’ process breeds suspicion and it risks the reputation of the IAEA as no result will be fully accepted simply on the word of an international bureaucrat."