Senior US officials have been claiming that Iranian negotiators had agreed in Lausanne to accept a demand that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect any site it considered suspicious anywhere in the country, including military bases. Such a provision would have given Israel license to make an endless series of bogus intelligence claims such as the ones that had been labeled “possible military dimensions” aimed at preventing the lifting of sanctions against Iran.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei repudiated the claims that Iran had agreed in Lausanne to such inspections on demand. He declared in a speech on April 9 that the IAEA would not be allowed to inspect the country’s military sites “under the excuse of nuclear supervision.” Khamenei’s speech came the day after the Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan had made it clear that no international inspections of Iranian military sites would be allowed under the nuclear agreement.
In his press availability in Lausanne on April 2, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA to investigate any suspicious site or any allegation of covert activities anywhere.”
The US “fact sheet” on the “parameters” of the agreement makes the same claim, stating, “Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, centrifuge production facility or yellow cake production facility anywhere in the country.”
A few days later, Deputy National Adviser Ben Rhodes appeared to add further confirmation of the agreement reached on inspections including military bases and invoked for the first time the Additional Protocol in support of the claim. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 on April 6, Rhodes said, “If there is a suspicious site, for instance somewhere in a military base in Iran, and we want to seek access to that, we will be able to go to the IAEA and get that inspection because of the Additional Protocol of the IAEA that Iran will be joining and some of the additional transparency and inspections measures that are in the deal.”
And President Obama himself appeared to assert a similar claim of success on the issue of access to “suspicious sites” in his interview with Thomas Friedman on April 5. “[W]hat we’re going to be doing,” he told Friedman, “is setting up a mechanism whereby, yes, IAEA inspectors can go anyplace … that we suspect.”
The Israel lobby has been putting intense pressure on the Obama administration to insist that the final agreement include access anywhere in Iran, any time. The legislation on congressional oversight of the negotiations introduced last January and amended in late February required that the “Verification Assessment Report” include whether the IAEA would have “sufficient access to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of covert nuclear-related activities.”
The Obama administration was so eager to show that it was achieving at the negotiating table what the Israel lobby was demanding that the section in the US State Department “fact sheet” about inspections simply lifted the crucial phrases about “suspicious sites or allegations of covert nuclear-related activities” from the late February version of the legislation.
The language of the joint statement of the P5+1 and Iran on April 2 indicates that there was agreement that “IAEA will have enhanced access through agreed procedures, including to clarify past and present issues.” But both that language and Obama’s further description of the negotiations on the issue make it clear that those procedures have not yet been negotiated.
Obama acknowledged that under the “mechanism” now under discussion, a request for any such inspection based on suspicion of nuclear weapon-related activities would have to be made to Iran, and that Iran could object to it. Obama suggested that the demands for such inspections would still prevail in the end, but his explanation must be read in its entirety:
[W]hat we have done is to try to design a mechanism whereby once those objections are heard, that it is not a final veto that Iran has, but in fact some sort of international mechanism will be in place that makes a fair assessment as to whether there should be an inspection, and if they determine it should be, that’s the tiebreaker, not Iran saying, “No, you can’t come here.”
Obama’s account of the mechanism suggests by his choice of wording (“[W]hat we have done is to try to design a mechanism”) that the most difficult questions about the mechanism have not yet been resolved. Obama carefully avoided claiming that the Iranian delegation had already agreed to the demand, as he put it, that “IAEA inspectors can go anyplace … that we suspect.”
Indeed, it is difficult to see how the two sides could agree on a mechanism that is free of the falsehoods that have surrounded the Iran nuclear issue for more than a decade. If the mechanism to which Obama refers were designed to require actual hard evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons work at a military base or even to make a truly disinterested assessment of the request, it would have rejected every claim advanced by the George W. Bush administration and the Israelis since 2004, including the allegation of the infamous bus-sized bomb containment chamber at Parchin. If, on the other hand, the assessment were to be dependent on the IAEA or another international body subject to US influence, the Iranians would certainly veto it.
The suggestion by Rhodes that Iran’s commitment to implement the Additional Protocol was evidence that Iran would have to provide access to any “suspicious sites” on demand by the IAEA was spurious. The only unrestricted requirement in the Additional Protocol for the member states to provide access is on sites designated previously as related to the nuclear fuel cycle.
The Additional Protocol is very clear that access to locations in order to “resolve a question relating to the correctness and completeness of the information” provided by the state depends on the approval of the state in question. Article 5 (c) of the agreement, which is related to such an IAEA request, provides that, if the signatory state is “unable to provide such access,” it “shall make every effort to satisfy Agency requests without delay through other means.”
In the context of the US-Iranian sparring over the issue of unlimited access, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano appeared to suggest during his April 27 press conference at the United Nations that Iran’s implementation of the Additional Protocol would give the IAEA all the access it wanted. “The first thing Iran must do,” said Amano, “is implement the Additional Protocol.”
Amano, who had been elected to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei as director general in 2009 with US diplomatic support, had agreed under US pressure to publish a 2011 compendium of allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons work, all of which were traceable to Israel.