As the Iran nuclear negotiations resume in Vienna with the intention of drafting a final agreement, the U.S.’s insistence on linking the lifting of sanctions with highly intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) promises to be a major hurdle that can potentially scuttle a deal, in light of Iran’s top military and civilian officials’ declared statements opposing the U.S.’s demand for IAEA access to Iran’s secret military sites.
First of all, military sites are already exempt from IAEA inspections. The IAEA’s inspection authority extends only to declared nuclear sites, which is defined generally as sites where nuclear material is used or stored. There’s no mandate for the IAEA to automatically get access to military sites.
Second, repeatedly the Iran negotiation team members have denied the U.S. officials’ claim that they have ever agreed to carte blanche for inspectors — to run rampant over what the US fact sheet characterizes as merely “suspicious sites”, leaving aside the fact that the IAEA is not an investigative agency and is not actually even technically qualified to hunt for hidden WMD programs. (The IAEA’s role in the NPT is merely as an accountant of declared nuclear material.)
Third, it most certainly is not true that “the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty…would grant the IAEA expanded access to both declared and undeclared nuclear facilities.” This is nonsense. There aren’t supposed to be any undeclared facilities in the first place, for any “expanded access” to be necessary. The AP still only permits access to declared nuclear sites.
Fourth, even now, if the IAEA has evidence that a site is in fact also a nuclear site, but was undeclared, it can present the evidence to the IAEA Board and request Special Inspections — which has never happened in the case of Iran because there’s no evidence of any actual nuclear weapons, rather we’re only presented with speculation about capabilities and intentions, which brings us to the next point: nuclear weapons capability is currently shared by 40 other nations, and is an inevitable part of having a civilian nuclear program, given the nature of dual purpose technology.
Fifth, the “special inspection regime” contemplated for Iran must strike the right balance between competing interests, including Iran’s national security interests, which can be harmed as a result of undue IAEA access to the country’s conventional military secrets, recalling the fiasco of Iraq’s experience when the IAEA in effect turned into an intelligence arm of the U.S. before the unlawful invasion of that country in 2003. Learning precious lessons from the Iraq experience, Iran will simply never submit itself to the military vulnerabilities that the UN-led inspections regime inflicted on its neighbor back then. Indeed, the U.S. appears to be inclined to be plotting a similar scenario for Iran with its excess demands that go well beyond the purview of Iran-IAEA safeguard agreement and, worse, open the door to a future Middle East war instead of precluding it, i.e., a bad final deal that would weaken Iran militarily would be an invitation for a future attack on Iran.
In light of the above-said, a pertinent question is why the U.S. continues to insist on an unreasonable demand that is bound to be rejected by Iran? Is the U.S.’s real intention to reach a deal or block one and thus perpetuate a ‘crisis of choice, not necessity’ that it has exploited for many years for its own hegemonic purposes? These questions point to a potential mismatch between the U.S.’s stated proliferation concerns articulated at the nuclear rounds and the non-nuclear intentions pertaining to U.S.’s power projection in the Middle East, as a result of which one can detect a certain motivational ambivalence on Washington’s part, reflected in inconsistent and incoherent policy steps vis-a-vis Iran.
In conclusion, as Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif has rightly stated, the U.S. must stop its own ambiguities and decide once and for all which path it wants to pursue with Iran, cooperation or confrontation? At the moment, Washington’s contradictory signals indicate a pattern of mixed motives that pull the U.S. policy-makers in opposite directions rather simultaneously and, indeed, this is nowhere more apparent than on the issue of lifting sanctions and resolving the thorny issue of IAEA inspections. Henceforth, a final deal is possible only if the U.S. reaches a new level of transparency about its own Iran intentions.
This article appeared at Iranian Diplomacy and is reprinted with permission.