Ongoing talks with Iran concerning its nuclear program are shadowed by the specter of previous failures.
The inability of nuclear officials to detect secret nuclear weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea is affecting today’s talks with Iran, writes Arshad Mohammed for Reuters. Any deal will rely not just on the signing of an agreement, but also robust measures to ensure compliance.
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Deadline extended for deal with Iran
Officials from the U.S. and its P5+1 partners are intent on closing loopholes in the current system. Negotiations are still underway regarding a deal which would see Iran agree to reduce its nuclear program in return for a relaxing of economic sanctions.
The deadline to reach a deal passed this Tuesday, although an extended deadline of July 7 was agreed. Major sticking points include how quickly sanctions will be removed, and what measures will be put in place to ensure that Iran complies with a deal.
Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency U.N. nuclear watchdog, will travel to Tehran to join talks on compliance and the past potential military dimensions of Iran’s program. His attendance proves quite how seriously the issue of compliance is being treated.
One key weakness in the current nonproliferation regime lets countries indefinitely suspend access to suspicious sites by extending negotiations with the IAEA. Timely access is necessary to allow for the detection of clandestine nuclear programs, but Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeni, has stated that allowing access to military sites is a deal breaker.
Access to military sites is a major issue
“I fail to see how any agreement can pass muster … that doesn’t have snap inspections (at all sites),” said former U.S. deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage. “I don’t see how you can have a verifiable regime without having snap inspections – whenever, wherever.”
However other analysts have claimed that any hope of convincing any country to grant inspectors unrestricted access to military sites is unrealistic. Iran suspects that such inspections could be used as reconnaissance missions for the U.S. and its allies, and history bears witness to their concerns; the U.N.’s now disbanded Iraq special inspection team was found to have been gathering intelligence on Iraq in the late 1990s.
Iraq also provides a valuable example of the limits of the nonproliferation system. U.S. troops sweeping the country after victory in the 1991 Gulf War found that Iraq had been working on a nuclear program which it had not declared to authorities.
The 1970 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) meant that IAEA inspectors could only visit sites that a state had declared, but did not provide for inspections of other sites.
“We discovered almost accidentally in the process of the war with Iraq that they had a secret enrichment program,” said George Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace nonproliferation expert.
Further evidence of secret programs were discovered in North Korea, which was found to be enriching uranium in hidden facilities, even though it had reduced its plutonium program as promised.
Lessons learned from Iraq and North Korea
The Iraqi example in particular was a major factor in the creation of the Additional Protocol in 1997. This voluntary agreement was designed to strengthen the nonproliferation system against clandestine programs by increasing the scope of verification and handing extra powers to the IAEA.
Under the agreement, officials could visit any facility if they doubted the veracity of a state’s declarations as to its purpose.However the Additional Protocol does not close all of the loopholes. If the IAEA and a state disagree on access to a certain site, both sides must negotiate the conditions of potential access.
One of the terms, “managed access,” is supposed to allow a minimum level of IAEA oversight, ensuring that inspections can be carried out without revealing legitimate military or industrial secrets.
Process currently subject to abuse
Negotiations about the terms of access are not subject to a time limit, which means that the state can prevent access simply by extending the talks over and over again.
“If they cannot come to an agreement, that discussion – that negotiation – can go on ad infinitum,” a senior U.S. official said. “We have added a procedure in this agreement that will ensure that that discussion comes to an end,” the official added.
“The Iranians need to know we aren’t going in there like cowboys and look under the beds. Of course, it’s unpleasant for the Iranians to come clean on all their dirty linen and there is a lot of dirty linen,” said another official. “The agency just needs the means to do its work.”
Given the mistakes made in both Iraq and North Korea, P5+1 officials are eager to build stronger agreements on compliance into any nuclear deal with Iran, but unfortunately that has proved to be a stumbling block.