A Deal Based on Trust, Not Verification

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Ambassador Nicholas Burns testified this week, "I think it's likely that Iran will try to cheat at some point. I think that's just an objective statement." Ambassador Dennis Ross wrote, "Given Iran's track record, it will likely cheat along the margins to test the means of verification" created by the Vienna nuclear deal. It's worth listening to Burns and Ross because they have held senior policymaking positions and have resigned themselves to accepting this deal as the least of many evils. Yet if Iran is so determined to cheat, the nuclear deal leaves the U.S. allies without the means to catch Iran and force it back into line.

At the nuclear facilities Iran admits having, there will be extensive monitoring. However, there is substantial reason to believe that in a country twice the size of Texas there are additional covert facilities that Tehran has not declared. Indeed, the most important facilities that Iran now acknowledges, at Natanz and Fordow, were originally built covertly and in violation of previous agreements.

Therefore, the new deal has provisions for the inspection of suspicious sites where illicit activities may be underway. These provisions can be found in Section Q of the first annex to the nuclear deal, which comprises a mere five paragraphs in a document that runs to 159 pages. However, it is uncertain at best if these measures will be sufficient to allow international inspectors to uncover any activities that Iran may wish to hide. Section Q lays out a complicated process for adjudicating whether Iran must allow U.N. inspectors to visit a site they deem suspicious. The regular adjudication process may take as long as 24 days, although there is no means to enforce the adjudicators' decisions – although there is another appeals panel that may take another 35 days to reach a decision. Yet even if Iran complies, it would have ample time to cover up its illicit activities.

This maze of red tape is not what the Obama administration promised while negotiating the deal.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz – a lead U.S. negotiator – told reporters in April, "We expect to have anywhere, anytime access." Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told CNN, "under this deal, you will have anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has."

That was undoubtedly the right objective for U.S. negotiators to pursue. As President Obama still says, "this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification." Olli Heinonen, a veteran International Atomic Energy Agency arms inspector, explains, "Without unfettered access to people and all sites in Iran, and if limitations and sanctuaries are carved out, it will be impossible to convincingly certify that Iran is fully complying with its undertakings." In June, a bipartisan panel of 20 national security experts wrote in an open letter,"Iran must not be able to deny or delay timely access to any site anywhere in the country that the inspectors need to visit in order to carry out their responsibilities." In addition to Heinonen, notable signatories included Gary Samore, Obama's White House coordinator for arms control from 2009-2013, and Robert Einhorn, Hillary Clinton's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department, also from 2009-2013.

President Obama's abandoned commitment to "anytime, anywhere" inspections was one of the most stunning concessions revealed in Vienna. In an effort to quiet the ensuing uproar on both sides of the aisle, Ben Rhodes coolly informed CNN, "We never sought in this negotiation the capacity for so-called anytime, anywhere, where you can basically go anywhere in the country, look at whatever you wanted to do, that had nothing to do with the nuclear program."

The loss of "anytime, anywhere" inspections isn't the only glaring omission in the nuclear deal however. William Tobey, formerly a senior official in the U.S. Nuclear National Security Administration, writes, "For inspections to be meaningful, Iran would have to completely and correctly declare all its relevant nuclear activities and procurement, past and present." This declaration would become the baseline against which inspectors could measure Iran's compliance and cooperation.

Tobey adds that inspectors "require access to supporting records and knowledgeable individuals. They would need to examine invoices, lab notes, personnel files, organization charts, production inventories, building plans and other documents supporting the declaration – assuming one is ever provided – and to discuss the material with scientists and program managers." Even if Iran allows inspectors to access suspicious sites, the relevant documents and personnel may be long gone before 24 days elapse.

Considering such facts, it is extremely difficult to understand how President Obama can say that the Iran deal will put in place the "most comprehensive and intrusive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated." Even if such a claim were plausible, the nuclear deal has an effective lifespan of 10 years, even though Iran has illicitly pursued nuclear capabilities for three decades. Some inspections will continue beyond year 10, but since the U.N. can't impose sanctions after that point, Iran has little reason to comply.

If approved, the best outcome to expect from this deal is a continual battle for the next 10 years to keep the inspections regime alive and credible. And while the fight is underway, Iran may be laying the ground work for a covert nuclear weapons capability it can reveal at a moment of its choosing once the deal expires.

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