The United States is pursuing a rigorous new regime for international inspections of Iran's nuclear program that includes access to off-limits military sites as well as increased transparency on the Islamic Republic's often obfuscated enrichment of uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, according to U.S. officials and congressional leaders spearheading the new inspection effort.
A delegation of 13 leading senators petitioned the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, led by Ambassador Nikki Haley, to implement a series of stricter inspection methods that would give Western countries a deeper look into Iran's suspected use of military sites to continue contested nuclear work prohibited under the landmark nuclear agreement, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
The Trump administration is said to be fully on board with these tougher inspection measures, which could address lingering questions about Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal, U.S. officials said. Iran has been found in breach several times since the accord was implemented.
The letter, spearheaded by Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) and a delegation of top GOP senators, urges the United States to force the United Nations into accepting a tough new nuclear inspection regime in Iran that could shed sunlight on the country's hidden nuclear efforts.
Many of Iran's most contested military sites and uranium enrichment plants have been off-limits to international inspectors or subject to a delayed timeline that gives Iran at least a month to prepare for inspections, a part of the nuclear agreement that has come under particular criticism from those who say it gives the Islamic Republic time to cleanup and hide possible nuclear work falling outside of the accord.
The senators highlight a series of "shortcomings in the inspection and verification regime" led by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, which has itself admitted in recent months that it does not have a full picture of Iran's current nuclear program.
A major "deterioration in the amount and quality of the information provided by IAEA inspections [has] prevented the inspection and verification regime of the JCPOA from being as thorough and transparent as possible," the senators write, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym.
The U.S. Mission to the U.N. is said to fully back these tougher inspection requests and is already pushing for a change at Turtle Bay.
"The senators' letter is completely in sync with Ambassador Haley's concerns about Iranian nuclear inspections," a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission told the Free Beacon Monday, several days after the senators first sent their letter.
Haley "will continue to press for the most aggressive implementation of the nuclear deal, while also working to move the U.N. toward stronger measures against dangerous Iranian actions that fall outside of the deal, including their missile testing, arms smuggling, and support for terrorism," the official said.
A spokesperson for Perdue's office described the letter as part of a larger bid to crackdown on flaws in the nuclear deal that were originally obfuscated by the Obama administration when it first sold the deal to Congress and the American public.
"It's very clear President Obama's dangerous Iran Nuclear Deal doesn't have the teeth he claimed it would," the congressional official told the Free Beacon. "President Trump was right to decertify this deal, and now we have to turn up the pressure on the IAEA to get more detailed reporting and ensure all potential nuclear sites—including military installations—are inspected thoroughly."
"Senator Perdue is encouraged Ambassador Haley has brought these issues to the U.N. and supports her effort to get better information about Iran's nuclear activities," the source said.
U.S. officials and those in Congress are seeking to close a series of gaps that have allowed Tehran to receive a month's notice before inspections and also keep secret its most contested military sites.
The letter highlights flaws in a portion of the nuclear deal known as Section T, which is supposed to provide assurances that Iran is not engaging in any activities that would contribute to the design or development of a nuclear explosive device.
The IAEA has admitted in recent weeks that it is unclear exactly how to interpret this portion of the accord and has been unable to fully verify efforts undertaken by Iran on this front.
Without this information, the United States cannot fully determine "if Iran makes any effort to leave the JCPOA abruptly or gradually," according to the letter, which was also signed by Sens.Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Mike Lee (R., Utah), John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), and several others.
Access to Iran's military sites remains a key outstanding issue for the Trump administration and Congress, according to these officials, who say there is no credibly way to determine Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord without such access.
"We believe that without visits to military sites, the IAEA cannot make a credible conclusion that Iran is meeting its section T obligations," the senators wrote.
The group is also pushing greater transparency on Iran's uranium enrichment efforts, including its mining of uranium ore and yellow cake.
Inspection regimes "should include the number of visits to mines and ore concentration plants," according to the senators, who say that Iran should be forced to inform the West about the amount of yellow cake it produces.
Additional new measures would include disclosures of "the type and amount of uranium fed into [nuclear] cascades at" each of Iran's facilities. Such information would provide a clearer picture of how much enriched uranium Iran has on hand.
Iran must also provide more information about the number of nuclear centrifuges it is operating in its Natanz plant, as well as other areas, according to the senators, who are pushing for greater inspection of Iran's storage of advanced nuclear centrifuges.
This would include "an assessment on if the IAEA surveillance measures are conclusive" on this front, or if further inspections are needed.
"With these improvements to inspection and reporting practices, we can better deny Iran's access to a nuclear weapons capability," the senators wrote.
A spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council declined to comment on the letter, saying it does not discuss "correspondence between Congress and government officials," but the issues highlighted in the missive appear to jibe with the Trump administration's public criticism of the accord.
One veteran foreign policy insider for works closely with Congress on the Iran portfolio told the Free Beacon that the new U.S. inspection efforts highlight important ways in which the IAEA's current regime has failed to provide critical information about Tehran's nuclear progress.
"This letter does a couple of things," the source said. "It highlights how the IAEA has been spinning its wheels in Iran, and hasn't visited the sites where Iran is likely to be developing nuclear weapons technology."
"It also serves notice that Congress knows the IAEA is full of shit when its top officials say they've confirmed Iran is complying with the deal," the source added.