Verification is wobbly. Yes the provisions are better than other IAEA systems, but this is nothing compared to the access and techniques used in Iraq. Moreover, it is very sensitive to how aggressive the IAEA intends to be. And there will be huge pressures on the IAEA Director General to be “balanced.” There will be huge pressures for the mechanism to be “successful.”
Further, the many limits on Iran are intentionally reversible. It’s good that all but 300 kg of Uranium is eliminated or removed from Iran. However, enrichment capacity, i.e. centrifuges are put in storage, not destroyed. Iran has explicitly said it will eventually improve its enrichment capability.
But, the goals of this agreement are far more limited than the case in Iraq. The deal is intended to delay Iran from achieving a weapon, maybe for ten years, maybe less if Iran decides to whittle down on cooperation as time passes. So, depending on your evaluation criteria, this may be good enough, or at least, better than nothing. The verification mechanism will probably achieve the limited goal of slowing the progress of Iran having a nuclear weapon. It cannot categorically inhibit Iran.
Key weaknesses include:
The focus is on nuclear supply chain, but other aspects of nuclear weapons development can proceed, i.e. ballistic missile delivery systems. Weapons design work. If Iran tests fuzing and payload separation techniques needed for delivering a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, the IAEA will not do anything.
Verification is also very sensitive to following:
- This is highly dependent upon the attitude, aggressiveness of IAEA inspectors (Director General). And, consider the political machinations that will surround the selection of the next Director General in 2017.
- IAEA has typically focused on monitoring for diversion of material, not inspection of suspect sites. Agressive forensic types of inspection are not their forte.
- The investigation of “Possible Military Dimensions” is highly uncertain, but critical. There is only a brief paragraph point in the agreement. But if Iran won’t disclose what they have accomplished in “weaponization” how will inspectors know what to look for in future? What does this say about Iran’s long term willingness to comply? Iran has blocked IAEA investigation of this subject for years. The IAEA Director General has declared that he and Iran have agreed on a “roadmap” to address these questions, but they have not made it public. The PMD’s are vital. If Iran does not come clean on this, it puts into question their overall intentions to comply.
- This will be first and critical early test of Iran’s will to comply AND IAEA’s willingness to push. They need to show major progress by 15 October deadline. This will be a critical point. Sanctions lifting hinges on this. The political pressures for this to go forward will be enormous.
- The process for gaining access to non-declared sites is terribly slow. This lengthy process is not credible for detecting non-enrichment related violations. Imagine you are in Iran at a location doing design work on detonators. You know that you will have 24 days to cover your tracks should the IAEA declare the intention of coming to your location.
- The dispute resolution will be convoluted once it gets to Security Council. Will the Security Council generally (or even the US) want to reinstall sanctions because IAEA inspectors are denied access to some site that they have suspicions about? Sanctions snap-back of sanctions may happen if there is a blatant egregious violation and the international community is willing to give up the massive flow on commerce. Dubious.
- Unlike Iraq, the restrictions on Iran are reversible. Unlike Iraq, inspectors will not be destroying centrifuges, they will be monitoring their non-use.
With all these weaknesses, it may be better than nothing, but don’t oversell it. This slows Iran’s nuclear program, but when Iran wants a weapon, they can build it. This may be the best we can get. It may fit in with some strategic realignment with Iran and a hope that Iran (including the IRGC and other elements) will somehow become more aligned with US interests in the future. Secretary Kerry and his team worked extremely hard to come up with this deal. Maybe they did well considering the hand they were dealt. Clearly Iran has done well.