Fri Apr 10, 2015
Beefing up international monitoring of Iran's nuclear work could become the biggest stumbling block to a final accord between Tehran and major powers, despite a preliminary deal reached last week. As part of that deal, Iran and the powers agreed that United Nations inspectors would have "enhanced"
access to remaining nuclear activity in Iran, where they already monitor key sites. But details on exactly what kind of access the inspectors will have were left for the final stage of talks, posing a major challenge for negotiators on a complex and logistically challenging issue that is highly delicate for Iran's leaders.
Securing proper inspections is crucial for the United States and other Western powers to ensure a final deal, due by June 30, is effective and to persuade a skeptical U.S. Congress and Israel to accept the agreement. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, but it has never welcomed intrusive inspections and has in the past kept some nuclear sites secret. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say for Iran on the deal, on Thursday ruled out any "extraordinary supervision measures" over nuclear activities
and said military sites could not be inspected
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said it was crucial to come up with a mechanism for "anytime, anywhere" inspections that go beyond the IAEA's own special arrangements for short-notice inspections, known as the Additional Protocol.
"It’s extremely difficult for Iran," said Albright, himself a former U.N. weapons inspector. "They don’t want it. They want to keep smuggling (nuclear materials). They’re buying a lot of things, and they’re not going to want to stop."
Iran signed the Additional Protocol in 2003, a year after the existence of its Natanz enrichment site and Arak heavy-water production facility was revealed. Tehran began voluntarily implementing the protocol but never ratified it. It eventually stopped implementing it.
But Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's former chief nuclear inspector who is now at Harvard University, said Additional Protocol inspections would likely not be enough for proper monitoring.
The Additional Protocol has limitations, experts say, such as not covering research by Iran that the IAEA is investigating and which Western countries believe was linked to weaponization.
Jacqueline Shire, a non-proliferation expert and former member of the U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on Iran, said resolving questions about the so-called "possible military dimensions" of Iran's past nuclear activities was crucial
but extremely difficult. "Iran will have to engage with the IAEA on this in a way it has not, up to this point, been willing to," she said.
Heinonen, Albright and Shire said that failure to address the possible military dimensions could undermine confidence in any monitoring and inspection regime. "If you leave PMD unresolved, then there could be many unknowns
," Heinonen said.