FPI Bulletin: Kerry Misleads on “Anytime, Anywhere” Inspections

August 10, 2015

By FPI Summer Analyst Benjamin Ehrlich

Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was announced last month, critics have expressed their disappointment that the plan does not allow “anytime, anywhere” access for inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Instead, the deal would allow Iran to postpone inspections for up to 24 days, during which time it could move suspicious materials and attempt to cover its tracks, as Iran is reportedly doing at the Parchin military complex now. Secretary of State John Kerry now insists, “There’s no such thing in arms control as anytime, anywhere,” but in reality, arms inspectors, diplomats, and scholars have long recognized the importance of “anytime, anywhere” inspections.

The key example of inspections conducted under the “anytime, anywhere” standard came when South Africa ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1991. In order to demonstrate its good faith, then-foreign minister Pik Botha explained, "Our policy was, 'you can visit anywhere, anytime.’ [Inspectors] had access to all our scientists and experts without supervision or anyone else being present. They could look at every book and file." This transparency allowed the IAEA to verify that South Africa had dismantled both its nuclear weapons and the program that built them, a key step toward South Africa’s normalization.

Nonproliferation experts have recognized for many years that unless Iran allows similar transparency, it would be difficult to verify that it has ceased its covert nuclear activities. In 2005, former Iraq Survey Group head David Kay explained why inspections could not reveal the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program at that time: “International inspection during normal, peaceful times, like right now, can only go to sites that the Iranians agree they can go to. They can only go to equipment that the Iranians agree. A clandestine program that is genuinely clandestine and hidden requires inspectors to go anywhere, anytime with anything they want. International inspectors do not have that power” in Iran.

Robert Einhorn, previously the Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation under Madeleine Albright as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, concurred. As he noted in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006:

“The AP [i.e., Addition Protocol to the NPT] has its own limitations. Unlike what many observers believe, it does not provide for ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections. It does not, for example, authorize investigation of suspected weaponization activities or allow access to military facilities where no nuclear materials are believed to be present. That is why the IAEA Board has several times requested, unsuccessfully, that Iran accept verification procedures going beyond what is required by the AP.”

As the details of the JCPOA were hammered out, both congressional leaders and administration officials emphasized the importance of this type of transparency. In January 2015, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) insisted, “The agreement must contain stronger language that allows inspections anywhere, anytime, unannounced.” In April, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes declared, “Under this deal, you will have anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access,” a claim he reiterated in a second interview on the same day.

Only after finalizing the deal with Iran did the administration disavow “anywhere, anytime” inspections. “I never, in four years, had a discussion about ‘anywhere, anytime,’” Secretary of State Kerry said in July, “There is no such standard within arms control inspections.”

Secretary Kerry’s statement ignores decades of experience with arms control agreements and their verification. What is more concerning is that the confidence he has expressed in the 24-day inspection timeline has been questioned by leading nonproliferation experts, including a former deputy director general of the IAEA. While Congress may still have time to insist on a better agreement to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, doing so will require the administration be honest about what it will take to do so.

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