Is verification regime enforceable on Iran’s nuclear program?

By: Alireza Jafarzadeh, The HILL, April 23, 2015

In defending the Framework of Understanding reached between the P5+1 and Tehran during the marathon talks in Switzerland, President Obama declared at the Rose Garden that Iran has “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.” The White House version of the framework insists, “Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.”

These assurances could be entirely meaningless if they cou ld not be enforced. And the history and nature of the regime in Iran suggest it is highly unlikely that the mullahs would allow full enforcement, unless non-compliance becomes extremely costly for Tehran. Obama’s statement that, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons,” while no-one has seen such a fatwa – not that it would matter anyway if it even existed – makes it palpably clear that the administration is relying on hope rather than on experience. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini insisted that nothing, even the most sacred edicts of Islam, could rise above the interests of the state, even the mandatory prayer and fasting.

If the words of the Supreme Leader are any indication, no military sites will be opened to IAEA inspectors. And these include Parchin, the command center for production of nuclear weapons, i.e., the “Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research” (known by its Farsi acronym SPND), and Lavizan-3.

The Iranian nuclear program includes a substantial number of sites, workshops, and labs that have been deliberately set up in conventional military sites.

Rejecting IAEA access to these sites may be perceived as defensible under the pretext of national security concerns. In addition, military personnel and officials have the freedom to visit them on a regular basis.

Even in the case of the known sites such as Natanz, Arak, Kala Electric, Lavizan-Shain, Lashkar Abad, Fordow, and dozens of other facilities, Tehran had failed to inform the IAEA voluntarily or in a transparent manner. In all these cases, access to IAEA inspectors was only granted after the NCRI or other sources revealed their existence.

But even that access has been subjected to unjustifiable delays, giving Tehran adequate time to sanitize the locations. Despite those efforts, the IAEA found traces of highly enriched uranium, which true to its color, the regime tried to explain away.

Tehran also has a history of deliberately misleading the IAEA. When the regime accompanied IAEA inspectors during a visit to the Revolutionary Guards’ (IRGC) controlled Imam Hossein University in January 2006, it introduced it as a technical university to cover up links with the IRGC, which would have alarmed the IAEA.

Tehran also concealed its research program and advancement of laser isotopes. The laser program in Lashkarabad laser laboratory west of Tehran was first disclosed by the NCRI in May 2003. Before the IAEA visit three months later, the regime moved the laser enrichment equipment to the nuclear research center in Karaj used for agricultural and medical purposes. In November 2003, however, the IAEA said, “Iran acknowledged that the uranium metal had been intended not only for the production of shielding material, as previously stated, but also for use in the laser enrichment programme.”

In his memoirs, Iranian regime’s president, Hassan Rouhani said, “One of the things that caused trouble for us was the traces of 36 percent enriched uranium found in one of the rooms of Kala Electric. In the following months, issues regarding higher enrichment levels of uranium (e.g. 80 percent) were resolved, but this case remained unresolved… The issue of contamination and particularly the traces of 36 percent enriched uranium, which was different from other types of contamination, had created another dilemma.”

In another instance, according to Rouhani, “The issue of missing some UF4 and its conversion to uranium metal, was a topic of discussion for the IAEA. Despite the previous denial by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), in its October 2003 statement it accepted and included it on the list of the activities of the 1990s. The IAEA was sensitive about uranium metal because it could be also used for the shell of the bomb.”

In an interview with Iranian daily Mashreq on March 18, 2013, FereydoonAbbasi, former AEOI chief and a key nuclear figure over the past 20 years, said: “When we wanted to move the main reservoir tank of Arak reactor, we had hidden it so they could not know which workshop it was…for a few years.”

Yet, the most secret aspect of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, i.e., weaponization, was tasked to a specific entity, which has undergone many changes over the years. SPND has nevertheless preserved its organizational integrity and has even expanded in recent years.

The regime has never directly declared the existence of this entity to the IAEA. The Agency became aware of its existence, functions, activities, and even its experts and key personnel, through different sources, including the NCRI, which also identified the top official associated with it, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi.  So far, Tehran has kept the IAEA away from SPND, its experts, archives, and documents.

Against this backdrop, the P5+1 must not accept anything short of snap inspections of all suspect sites, military or otherwise.

The IAEA should also have unrestricted access to all nuclear experts or officials suspected of any past or present involvement with the nuclear program.

Verification is the linchpin of the framework of understanding. No sanctions should be lifted, unless Tehran has taken significant and meaningful steps to satisfy such verification.

Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of “The Iran Threat” (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008).