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Anytime, Anywhere?

Earlier this week, Deputy White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes asserted that, contrary to frequently repeated promises, the US negotiators had never sought “anytime anywhere inspections” in their nuclear negotiations with Iran. Instead, the promise of anytime, anywhere inspections has now been admitted to have been “rhetorical.” 

The White House is now claiming that such inspections aren’t really necessary, and that 24-days’ notice to Iran will still allow for meaningful inspections because “it’s not so easy to clean up a nuclear site.”

In June, however, prior to the announcement of the terms agreed upon this week in Vienna, Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and member of the Iran Task Force, gave us some insight into what the verification process would need to look like in order to be effective.

Heinonen emphasized that “a durable agreement with Iran will be heavily reliant on the quality of verification mechanisms that are put in place.” In other words, without effective verification processes, the agreement is really not worth the paper it’s written on (all 159 pages of it).

Heinonen went on to explain, assuming at the time that Iran would be permitted to have some enriched uranium  — an assumption that has now been confirmed in the Vienna terms — that the calculation of keeping Iran at a one-year breakout time is based on Iran maintaining its quantities of enriched uranium at or below the agreed upon amount. Inspectors, therefore, will need to be able to know, not whether or not there is enriched uranium present, but exactly how much enriched uranium Iran is keeping.

Ahmadinejad with centrifuges
Ahmadinejad standing next to centrifuges

Moreover, while the terms allow Iran to maintain only some of its centrifuges as working centrifuges, none of them will actually be destroyed. Those that won’t be permitted to be operational under the agreement could easily be reactivated. A single centrifuge is not very big – a little bit taller than a tall person, and narrower in width than a person. One thousand of them could be moved fairly easily. Some models, according to Heinonen, can be installed “in quantities of concern” quickly. Therefore, Iran’s inventory of both existing and new centrifuges will need to be closely watched.

It doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see that, under these facts, inspections on 24-day notice to Iran can’t possibly accomplish this goal. Heinonen wrote,

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.

Without short notice inspections, Heinonen states, there may be “tampering that could compromise the verification objectives.” Heinonen recommended 24-hour notice, but what we ended up with is 24 days. Nor will we be permitted the “unfettered access to people” that Heinonen envisioned.

In addition to being able to detect violations using existing infrastructure at existing locations, moreover, Heinonen notes that full transparency will be necessary to ensure that Iran does not use its existing nuclear infrastructure to create a new, secret nuclear facility.

Technology will not be an effective substitute for access. Verification procedures will need to be “innovative and adaptive,” Heinonen explained. In other words, human, and not technology based. “Intelligence will also complement [i.e., not substitute for] the role of verification and monitoring in providing early indications of things going off-track.”

In short, if Iran has nothing to hide, it should grant the type of access that Heinonen described and that the White House has promised us. If it doesn’t, the only thing we will really know for sure is that Iran intends to cheat on the deal.

About the author

Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
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