Fmr. U.S. Officials: Iran Nuke Inspection Deal Falls Short

Key nuclear sites off limits to inspectors

November 12, 2013

International nuclear inspectors will be barred from entering Iran’s most contested nuclear site under a new deal inked on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Monday that Iran had agreed to allow its inspectors into the country for tours of a uranium mine and partially constructed nuclear reactor.

The new roadmap agreement, which Iranian officials hailed as a sign of its "good will," would permit IAEA officials to eventually visit the Gachine uranium mine and Arak heavy water plant, which is still in the early phases of construction.

However, Iran will not have to disclose its secretive nuclear programs nor permit inspectors access to a key military site suspected of being used as a nuclear weapons testing ground.

The deal was announced just days after Western negotiations with Iran ended in failure. Multiple reports indicated that the United States was prepared to roll back economic sanctions and sign off on Tehran’s right to continue its enrichment.

In addition to allowing IAEA inspectors access to the uranium mine and Arak plant, Iran has agreed to provide information about its nuclear reactors, its 16 new nuclear power sites, its enrichment facilities, and its enrichment technology, according to the IAEA.

Iran has three months to comply with the deal, which also reportedly requires the IAEA to protect Iran’s "confidential" nuclear information.

Current and former U.S. officials expressed confusion over the deal, warning that it allows Iran to continue its nuclear work while IAEA inspectors investigate two mostly "irrelevant" sites.

"The access to the Iranian mine is essentially irrelevant and doesn’t really tell you anything about what Iran is doing" on the nuclear front, according to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

"I’m not quite sure what the point is of that except one more thing Iran can say about its charm offensive," said Bolton, who described the agreement as just ‘another superficial concession" by Tehran.

"Chalk a victory up for symbolism over substance," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq.

"It's important to go to Arak not once in front of cameras, but every day of every week of every year," said Rubin, the author of a new book about diplomacy with rogue regimes. "The heavy water reactor produces plutonium, with which only a fool would trust Iran."

Inspectors will not be granted access to the Parchin military site, where Iran once "constructed a large explosives containment vessel" to perform "high explosive and hydrodynamic experiments related to the development of nuclear weapons," according to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

The IAEA has been demanding access to Parchin for years. However, the Iranians have refused and began cleaning up the site to cover evidence in 2012.

"If Tehran is sincere, why not open Parchin, where Iran has apparently been experimenting with nuclear bomb components, or Fordow, Iran's once secret underground facility?" Rubin asked. "What we have is a slick Iranian PR move. The IAEA might as well wear t-shirts that say, ‘I went to the place where Iran will produce plutonium for a bomb, and all I got was a lousy press statement.’"

Granting inspectors access to the partially built Arak reactor is not very significant at this point in time, according to Bolton and others.

"Giving the IAEA access now isn’t going to do anything," Bolton said, explaining that inspectors could always be ejected once the plant is ready to go online. "The significance of it is also minimal."

"There are a lot of other issues" that have yet to be resolved or even discussed with the IAEA, Bolton said, referring to Parchin and other sites.

"Overall, this agreement is consistent with the broad diplomatic charm offensive that Iran" has pursued in recent months, Bolton said.

Proliferation expert Emanuele Ottolenghi said that the agreement "falls short of addressing all issues that have been on the table since 2008, when the IAEA began to address in earnest all aspects of Iran's program's military dimensions."

Iran is well practiced in the art of obfuscating its nuclear activities, said Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"Iran has covered up many of its activities in the past—and the fact that it continues to deny access to inspections and verification for such a key military facility is very telling," he said. "Iran is certainly being less defiant than in the past—but it will take much more on the regime's part to come clean after three decades of clandestine activities and obfuscation."

Former Bush administration National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams noted that Iran has successfully convinced Western nations to consider a nuclear deal that is significantly less tough than one proposed in 2009.

"Under the 2009 agreement, the U.S. and Russia pledged to supply enough fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, enriched to 20 percent, so that Iran would not enrich to 20 percent itself," said Abrams. "But now Iran has enough 20 percent enriched uranium to fuel that research reactor for many years, perhaps decades."

"And it has enough 3.5 percent low enriched uranium for several bombs, when further enriched," Abrams said. "So, the question is why the administration is pushing a deal so much worse than it wanted in 2009?"

A senior Senate aide who works on the Iran issue in Congress called the deal ridiculous.

"I'm sure we'll all be comforted by the detailed reporting on what color tile the Iranians picked out for the [Arak] reactor manager's office while their centrifuges at Natanz spin up another bomb's worth of enriched uranium over the next six months," the source said.

Published under: Iran , Nuclear Weapons