The deal signed between a US-led group of countries and Iran might not have been today’s most important Iran-related nuclear agreement.
That’s because another deal signed Tuesday — a “roadmap” between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran — will allow the IAEA to confirm that Iran has responded to all of the agency’s concerns regarding Tehran’s past nuclear-weaponization efforts.
These disclosures are critical to the success of an agreement, as they allow international monitors to establish a baseline of Iranian nuclear-weapons research, experimentation, and expertise for future inspections. Without knowledge of the scope and extent of Iran’s program, it’s difficult for the IAEA to eventually confirm that Iran’s nuclear programs are only for peaceful purposes.
The “roadmap” is a highly significant document. The two nuclear deals have a direct relationship: Without Iran and the IAEA following their “roadmap,” the inspection and verification mechanisms of the other nuclear deal can’t work either.
Here are three areas of potential concern:
Deferring a resolution to the Parchin issue.
Iran built “a large explosives containment vessel or chamber at the Parchin military complex in 2000 to conduct high explosive and hydrodynamic experiments related to the development of nuclear weapons,” according to the Institute for Science and International Security, which notes that there were possible high-explosive bunkers detected at the site as late as 2004. But because Parchin considered a military facility, it’s been closed off to IAEA inspectors for a decade.
Parchin is therefore a crucial location for investigating the extent of Iran’s weapons program. Will inspectors be allowed in? We don’t know yet: the “roadmap” simply says that “Iran and the IAEA agreed on another separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.”
A very tight deadline.
Iran and the IAEA want to square away all disclosures by Dec. 15, 2015, at which point the agency’s director general “will provide, for action by the Board of Governors, the final assessment on the resolution of all past and present outstanding issues, as set out in the annex of the 2011 Director General’s report.”
That’s pretty ambitious, seeing as Iran has been non-responsive to IAEA queries on past weaponization work since November 2011. The IAEA thinks it can work out its disclosure issues with Iran in five months — after being unable to work out those same issues over the previous four years.
But that’s not the only problem. Five months may not be enough time to for Iran to make these kinds of disclosures and for the IAEA to verify them. By comparison, it took the IAEA several years to confirm the dismantling of South Africa’s nuclear-weapons program, while the agency didn’t totally certify that South Africa’s program was entirely peaceful until 2010.
Of course, South Africa had a far more developed weapons program than Iran, but it also voluntarily renounced its nuclear program during a period of regime change, political advantages that the IAEA won’t have in Iran.
For Thomas Moore, a longtime former nuclear proliferation expert for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this quick timeline suggests that the sides just want to sweep the disclosure issue out of the way so that the rest of the deal can progress.
That’s backwards, in his view: The deal should actually be contingent on these disclosures and regarded as a condition of implementation, rather than a short-term obstacle.
“What I would have done is said OK , you want to have advanced centrifuges and be an enrichment country and to fabricate fuel, but that this commission which the agreement sets up won’t even consider that until the IAEA — during whatever period of time it requires — decides that it has resolved all of its concerns,” Moore told Business Insider. “In other words, we’re going to put this military program that you claimed you never had in front of the deal, and not in front of the deal for a few months, but for however long it takes.”
It’s unclear what happens if Iran doesn’t cooperate.
What if the IAEA and Iran can’t reach an agreement on disclosure before Dec. 15? What if the IAEA Secretary General’s statement determines that the agency isn’t satisfied with Iran’s answers to its questions about weaponization?
The roadmap doesn’t say. At one extreme, the lack of disclosure by Dec. 15 is a poison pill for the entire process, proof of Iranian bad faith that stops a potentially historic agreement in its tracks.
At the other extreme, the deal’s implementation will progress even in spite of Iranian intransigence. We’ll know within a matter of months.
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