The framework for a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 came under increased scrutiny this week after Tehran made a series of statements refusing to comply with critical IAEA inspections and proposed verification mechanisms ahead of a June 30th deadline. The Iranian demands directly call into question the ability to achieve a verifiable nuclear deal preventing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
On Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated Iran’s refusal to permit IAEA inspections of military sites and interviews with nuclear scientists, thereby undermining the verification regime of any potential deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Ayatollah Khamenei asserted: “No inspection of any military site and interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed. The enemies should know that the Iranian nation and officials will by no means give in to excessive demands and bullying”.
The Supreme Leader proceeded to state that the IAEA would not be permitted to conduct important interviews with Iran’s nuclear officials: “I will not allow foreigners to interview — which is tantamount to interrogation — the prominent beloved scientists and sons of this nation”. As a consequence, the IAEA will likely lack the full knowledge of Iran’s past atomic research, undermining the agency’s ability to design an effective verification system and calculate how fast Iran could develop a nuclear weapon.
The Ayatollah’s remark directly challenges the White House’s parameters of the framework agreement from April stating that “Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites”.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has also said “restricted inspections…under strict control and specific circumstances” may be possible.
The Obama administration has made a strong verification regime a central tenet of his argument for a deal with Iran.
Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of military sites would make a permanent nuclear deal unverifiable as it would be impossible to detect a covert attempt to ‘break out’. Iran has a history of developing secret nuclear sites on military facilities; including the previously concealed centrifuge plant at Fordow built on an IRGC military base. Iran has also repeatedly denied IAEA inspectors access to the Parchin military facility at which it is widely suspected of having conducted tests related to the high-explosive triggers for nuclear weapons. Satellite imagery shows that Iran has undertaken an extensive clean-up operation at the site in recent years – suggesting that Iran has been removing nuclear materials from the site.
David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, has warned that to evade inspection, “Tehran could declare a suspect site a military base and thus off limits”.
Despite UN Security Council resolutions, Iran has repeatedly refused to allow interviews or visits to sites linked to the possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme.
Iran continues to stonewall the IAEA, having only provided a partial explanation to 1 of the 12 outstanding weaponisation and atomic research issues.
France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius also revealed this week that Iran is demanding more than three weeks’ notice before allowing international inspectors to visit nuclear sites in the event of suspected nuclear violations.
Iran is reportedly seeking a 24-day period between the reporting of a suspected Iranian violation of the deal’s terms and the time when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors would be allowed to visit the relevant nuclear site
Criticising the Iranian demand, the French foreign minister cautioned that “a lot of things can disappear” in 24 days.
In an interview in March, the Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, stated that short notice inspections were essential to ensuring that all of Iran’s nuclear activities were for peaceful purposes.
A permanent nuclear deal requires a robust and unprecedented system of inspection of Iran’s future and past nuclear activities to verify that it adheres to the terms of any agreement and does not attempt to ‘breakout’.
Contrary to claims from U.S. officials that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers includes safeguards to ensure that Tehran does not break its commitments to curb enrichment activities, the proposed verification regime would only grant IAEA inspectors “regular access” to an expanded range of nuclear-related facilities.
Any permanent nuclear deal must enshrine the IAEA’s right to conduct intrusive inspections “anytime, anywhere” in Iran with unfettered access to all facilities (declared and undeclared), material, equipment, persons, and documents.
So-called “anytime, anywhere” inspections are critical given Iran’s history of clandestinely constructing major nuclear facilities and its repeated failure to comply with IAEA inspectors and refusal to grant access to military facilities.
Without complete access to Iran’s full portfolio of declared and undeclared nuclear-related facilities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide the international community with true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel, clandestine programme.