National Security & Defense

More Details on Secret Side Deal Allowing Iran to Inspect Itself

George Jahn, a respected reporter who covers the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for The Associated Press, published an important story yesterday on details of a secret side agreement to the Iran nuclear deal in which Iran will collect samples of possible nuclear-weapons-related activity for the IAEA. He wrote his story after an unnamed diplomat allowed him to read a draft of one of the side deals. The side-deal documents reportedly have only been briefed to U.S. officials and will not be shared with the U.S. Congress.

I wrote on this website on July 22 that Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) learned about the existence of two secret side deals to the Iran agreement when they met with IAEA officials in Vienna on July 17. The congressmen were told these agreements concerned resolving the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program and the issue of access to the Parchin military base, where explosive testing related to nuclear-warhead development reportedly has taken place.

This story attracted more attention on July 23, when Senator James Risch (R., Idaho) revealed during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that one of the side deals allows Iran to collect samples for the IAEA. Risch learned about this from Obama-administration officials during a classified briefing the previous day and indicated he was told that the IAEA would, by video, remotely monitor the Iranians taking samples. Risch’s remarks created quite a stir at the hearing and led Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) to say that if this were true, it would amount to “the equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop.” Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the committee’s chairman, likened this arrangement to NFL players’ mailing in their own urine samples for drug testing.

Senator Bob Corker likened this arrangement to NFL players’ mailing in their own urine samples for drug testing.

Jahn’s story is important because it provides previously unknown details of how Iran will collect samples for the IAEA. These details include the following:

‐Iran will provide photos and videos of sites linked to alleged nuclear-weapons work while, in the words of the document, “taking into account military concerns.” Jahn writes that this suggests that Iran will not give the IAEA photos or video information from areas Tehran says are off-limits because they have military significance. I agree, but there is another serious problem with this arrangement: Iran will be selecting the locations to photograph or film, and the IAEA will later use these images to request that Iran collect samples from them – in other words, Iran will be setting up the range of choices for the IAEA and will of course not give the IAEA the option of looking in places where actual nuclear-weapons work is going on.

‐At Parchin, Iranian inspectors will inspect seven sites within a building where alleged nuclear-related experiments took place. No collection will be done outside this building, although Iran will collect samples for the IAEA at locations other than Parchin. This U.S. concession is hard to believe, given years of reports of Iranian efforts to sanitize buildings and earth at the Parchin facility to remove evidence of WMD activities. Eli Lake and Josh Rogin wrote in an August 5 Bloomberg article that the U.S. intelligence community reported to Congress evidence that Iran began sanitizing the Parchin site “in broad daylight” just after the nuclear agreement was announced.

‐Iran will use its own equipment to collect samples for the IAEA. According to the side-deal document, this equipment will be consistent with technical specifications provided by the IAEA, and that the IAEA “will ensure the technical authenticity of Iran’s inspections.” Jahn added that the document did not explain how the IAEA would make these certifications.

The Jahn article provides the details of what can only be described as a preposterous and unserious plan to investigate past and ongoing Iranian nuclear-weapons-related activities. A fair and objective arms-control investigation tries to uncover evidence that a host country is trying to hide by collecting samples from unexpected locations using equipment of the investigators’ choosing. The current process appears carefully scripted so that Iran controls what is collected to ensure that no evidence is found indicating covert nuclear or other WMD activities.

#related#Given the unprecedented nature of the side deals, it is not surprising that Iran, the IAEA, and the Obama administration want to keep them secret and prevent Congress from reading them. This story became more bizarre when the Washington Free Beacon reported on August 18 that Iran sent a letter to IAEA director general Yukiya Amano threatening him with physical harm if he revealed information about the side deals during his meetings this month in Washington with members of the U.S. Congress.

Iranian leaders know from prior IAEA and American inspections in North Korea in the late 2000s, U.S. investigations of the Libyan nuclear program, and IAEA inspections of Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility that it is extremely difficult to hide evidence of covert WMD activities from the IAEA and the U.S., owing to the advanced techniques they use to analyze physical samples. The Jahn article describes a rigged process to shield Iran from these techniques.

The nuclear deal with Iran seems to get worse by the day. Will the secret side deals, Iran’s collecting of its own nuclear samples, a rigged collection process, and Iranian threats to silence the head of the IAEA be enough to convince Congress to reject the terrible nuclear agreement with Iran?

– Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs for the Center for Security Policy. He followed the Iranian nuclear issue for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee during his 25-year government career. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff.

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