Rumors to this effect have been swirling for weeks, as you're already aware. The Obama administration has been evasive about several secret side deals cut between Iran and the IAEA, prompting criticism from skeptics of the accord who note that US law requires the White House to release every single letter of the agreement to Congress for review. Secretary of State John Kerry has dodged questions about what these bonus bargains entail, and which US officials are privy to their contents. The Associated Press is now confirming that the IAEA has agreed to allow Iran to effectively inspect itself at the controversial Parchin nuclear site, within the context of accounting for the past military dimensions of the regime's nuclear program. Details:
Iran, in an unusual arrangement, will be allowed to use its own experts to inspect a site it allegedly used to develop nuclear arms under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press. The revelation is sure to roil American and Israeli critics of the main Iran deal signed by the U.S., Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the deal is built on trust of the Iranians, a claim the U.S. has denied. The investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the International Atomic Energy Agency is linked to a broader probe of allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear deal. The Parchin deal is a separate, side agreement worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers that signed the Iran nuclear deal were not party to this agreement but were briefed on it by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package. Without divulging its contents, the Obama administration has described the document as nothing more than a routine technical arrangement between Iran and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency on the particulars of inspecting the site.
The Free Beacon's Lachlan Markay reminds us of Sec. Kerry's repeated assurances that no element of this deal rests on trusting the Iranian regime:
Back to the AP story:
The agreement diverges from normal inspection procedures between the IAEA and a member country by essentially ceding the agency’s investigative authority to Iran. It allows Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence for activities that it has consistently denied — trying to develop nuclear weapons...Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he can think of no instance where a country being probed was allowed to do its own investigation. Iran has refused access to Parchin for years and has denied any interest in — or work on — nuclear weapons. Based on U.S., Israeli and other intelligence and its own research, the IAEA suspects that the Islamic Republic may have experimented with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms at that military facility and other weapons-related work elsewhere. The IAEA has repeatedly cited evidence, based on satellite images, of possible attempts to sanitize the site since the alleged work stopped more than a decade ago.
Nothing to see here, the White House insists, describing the arrangement as "routine," even as the AP and top IAEA officials explicitly describe how it's anything but routine. Obama administration officials say they're "confident" that the watchdog agency will be able hold Iran to account even under these special circumstances. When we wrote about this issue last month, however, we linked to a piece quoting a nuclear inspections expert who expressed concerns about Iran's ability to tamper with the samples it provides. If Iran has nothing to hide at Parchin, what possible justification to they have for excluding any international inspectors from overseeing this process? It's one thing for Iran to bar any Americans from joining any of the inspections teams and to wield veto power over which inspectors will be permitted into the country. It's another thing altogether to exclusively entrust the regime with the on-the-ground logistics of inspecting a crucial nuclear site. As a reminder, when it comes to other suspected nuclear sites, this deal allows Iran to contest "snap" inspections, triggering an appeal process of up to 24 days. Nuclear experts have criticized this concession, too. “A 24-day adjudicated timeline reduces detection probabilities exactly where the system is weakest: detecting undeclared facilities and materials,” one told the New York Times. Another added that Tehran is "practiced at cheating." Sen. Lindsey Graham and others are threatening to use a major US leverage point to put the squeeze to the IAEA:
A critical, cash-strapped U.N. agency has found itself in the middle of a game of diplomatic tug of war as lawmakers in Washington wrestle with the Iran nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, hasn’t captured as many headlines as other players in the negotiations. But if Congress approves the pact between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers, the agency will be the one to check on whether Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the agreement, taking on a whole new set of verification and inspection requirements. As skeptical legislators search for leverage in their fight against the nuclear deal, the IAEA has become a serious negotiating chip. A decent chunk of its funding comes from Washington and is beholden to fickle lawmakers -- some of whom have threatened to use that money to unspool the Iran agreement. Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham vowed to hold up the agency's funding until lawmakers received access to additional documents from the Iran accord.
Republican leaders and their Democratic allies on this issue have been insisting that every element of the Iran deal be made public, in accordance with the legislation signed by President Obama himself:
Finally, several Senators are alleging that this administration is assuring foreign government and companies that the US will not enforce its own sanctions against going business with Tehran, even if Congress rejects the deal -- and perhaps even if Iran overtly violates the deal:
Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) disclosed in the letter to the State Department that U.S. lawmakers have been shown copies of several letters sent by the Obama administration to the Chinese, German, French, and British governments assuring them that companies doing business with Iran will not come under penalty. The Obama administration is purportedly promising the foreign governments that if Iran violates the parameters of a recently inked nuclear accord, European companies will not be penalized, according to the secret letters...“The documents submitted by the Administration to Congress include non-public letters that you sent to the French, British, German, and Chinese governments on the consequences of sanctions snap-back,” Kirk and Rubio wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry. “These letters appear to reassure these foreign governments that their companies may not be impacted if sanctions are re-imposed in response to Iranian violations of the agreement,” they claim. “While Administration officials have claimed that this is not the case, we think it is important for the American public to be able to read your assurances to foreign governments for themselves as their elected representatives review this deal in the coming weeks.”