Monitoring Iran? Don’t bet on it… | Charles Duelfer

Monitoring Iran? Don’t bet on it…

There are a series of massive problems with the Iran nuclear agreement. A key one is the assertion of tough inspections. The diminished US objective of “limiting” Iran’s enrichment capacity to a point where there would be a one-year “breakout” time. This is to say that from the moment Iran begins work to build weapons, the US and international community would detect this and have time to react. Such warning would depend on US intelligence and, more critically, the UN weapons inspections.

The weapons inspectors will have two massive problems. One is access. By the standards of the nuclear inspection standards globally, Secretary Kerry will argue that the inspectors will have strong rights of access. Watch that space. Currently, the IAEA can monitor what Iran lets them monitor. The new agreement, presumably, will allow them to go to additional sites in Iran under some circumstances. We will have to wait to see the details on this, but whatever they are, they will be a distant second to the authorities the UN inspectors had in Iraq during the 1990s (established in UN Security Council Resolutions 687 and 715).

Inspection teams in Iraq could go anywhere with no notice; they could interview anyone; they could seize documents, they could fly anywhere in Iraq with their own helicopter fleet, they could emplace all sorts of sensors anywhere, essentially the teams could do whatever they deemed necessary to account for Iraq’s WMD. And it wasn’t enough.

The UN inspectors (dubbed UNSCOM) operated from 1991 to 1998 before leaving Iraq. Even with all that access (with blockages, deceptions and obstructions by the Saddam), it was not possible to say, with confidence, what Saddam did or did not have.

What’s worse, the UN Security Council very quickly became massively divided between those who did not want Saddam to be seen as complying and those who did not. The inspectors were caught in a vise and their reports could never be categorical, because evidence is rarely categorical—certainly when the inspected state wishes to preserve as much deception or ambiguity as possible. The dynamics surrounding the UN inspection process will be brutal.

The result will be reports that may suggest non-compliance, but inevitably there will be long contentious debates over the meaning of inspection results. The consequence is that the notion of having a years’ unambiguous and internationally agreed evidence of a decision by Iran to “breakout” is dubious at best.

The agreement may make sense in some overall strategy hoping to buy time until the regime in Tehran (which has killed far more Americans than ISIS) goes away and some better regime replaces it. But call the reality we are accepting for what it is: a weak attempt to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It may be “the best deal possible,” but this is a far cry from having a real warning time of a year during which, something may be done…that is a myth.

Remember, Iran has clearly NOT decided to give up its nuclear weapons ability in exchange for being re-accepted into the global economic system. International businesses are well on their way to get back into the Iran market. The competition is lining up. The leaders in Iran (as in Saddam’s Iraq) understand this dynamic. They are shrewd businessmen and will have learned from the Iraq experience. The sanctions on Saddam were crumbling in the 1990’s. Remember the oil-for-food program and the Russians and others were happily taking bribes and eluding the UN sanctions.

Whatever spin is put on the emerging agreement, watch particularly for the claims about monitoring. Especially watch for the assessment of the US intelligence.

CIA chief John Brennan should not be the spokesman on this. He has given interviews lately that clearly express political and policy views—something the CIA is not charged with.   DNI Director Jim Clapper has steered closer to the ideal of keeping intelligence judgments separate from policy assessments. DNI Director Clapper will inevitably say that the US could have warning of Iran breakout. Really? Listen for the caveats. Does he have high confidence? Moderate confidence?

We have been surprised many times before, in Iran and elsewhere.

In the end, the agreement will be a reflection of how much we care about a nuclear Iran and how little the United States can do about it. Like many other problems around the world, it seems there is little the the US believes it can do about it.





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