Politics & Policy

Reuters Gets the Iranian Self-Inspection Story Wrong

(Lorenzo Rossi/Getty)
The Iranians are collecting their own samples for inspection, and will continue to do so.

On September 11, 2015 — the same day the House was scheduled to vote on the nuclear deal with Iran — Reuters, citing two unnamed diplomats, reported that IAEA inspectors will be present when Iranians collect samples from their country’s past nuclear-weapons-related work at the Parchin military base. The Reuters report contradicted a principal Republican criticism of the Iran deal: secret side deals to the nuclear agreement that would allow Iranians to collect their own samples at Parchin and other locations to resolve questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

Supporters of the Iran deal cited the Reuters report as disproving this criticism of the nuclear agreement. I thought the Reuters story was fishy, since it contradicted briefings by the Obama administration to Congress on the side deals as well as the Associated Press, which published a transcript of one of the side deals. (The Obama administration and its supporters tried to discredit the AP story, including the claim that it was based on a forgery.)

It now turns out the Reuters report was false. Iranians collected samples at Parchin over the weekend with no IAEA officials present.

Spin on this development has already begun. CNN ran a story this morning with the misleading title “IAEA inspects Parchin for first time.” However, this article cites an Iranian official who said, “Iranian technicians took the samples and handed them to the IAEA.” CNN also quoted an IAEA statement that said, “in the case of Parchin, the Iranian side played a part in the sample-taking process by swiping samples” and “authentication by the agency of the samples was achieved through use of an established verification process.”

Further muddying the waters, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano made a ceremonial visit to Parchin over the weekend. According to Amano, “We entered a building which the agency had previously only been able to observe using satellite imagery. Inside the building, we saw indications of recent renovation work. There was no equipment in the building.”

The “ceremonial” Amano visit to Parchin to enter an empty building does not constitute an IAEA inspection but will probably be portrayed as one by supporters of the Iran deal.

#share#IAEA officials and the Obama administration have tried to downplay the significance of the Iranians’ collecting samples with no IAEA officials present by claiming that this process would be closely monitored and did not undermine the agency’s standards for collection of nuclear samples. I disagree. As I explained in National Review on August 20, this is

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.

Former IAEA official Olli Heinonen has also questioned the practice of Iranians’ collecting samples at Parchin. He said in an August 2015 op-ed:

If the reporting is accurate, these procedures appear to be risky, departing significantly from well-established and proven safeguards practices. At a broader level, if verification standards have been diluted for Parchin (or elsewhere) and limits imposed, the ramification is significant as it will affect the IAEA’s ability to draw definitive conclusions with the requisite level of assurances and without undue hampering of the verification process.

So why are IAEA officials endorsing Iranians’ self-inspection at Parchin? The reason is that the IAEA is not supposed to be an independent actor — it is an international organization that works for its members. The permanent members of the UN Security Council instructed the IAEA to implement this arrangement. IAEA officials are complying with and publicly supporting this order.

#related#The bottom line here is that the September 11 Reuters report was not just false; its timing suggests it was planted by the Obama administration to influence congressional consideration of the Iran deal. Reuters should have been skeptical about claims on how Iranians would collect samples that differed so starkly from most other reports and surfaced just before the House was scheduled to vote on the Iran deal.

The news that Iranians collected samples at Parchin without IAEA officials present vindicates criticism of the secret side deals by congressional Republicans. Reuters should issue a retraction and tell the American public the names of the two anonymous diplomats who were behind its false story.

— Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst, followed the Iranian nuclear program for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. He is senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy. 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. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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