Nuclear deal with Iran cannot be effectively verified
Historically, nations have been more likely to attempt 'sneakout' from an international agreement than an overt "breakout" and Iran has done this multiple times already in its past. Given the challenges of identifying and inspecting all of their nuclear facilities in a timely and consistent manner, verification of the nuclear deal will always be an issue.
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The Islamic Republic has long been Hezbollah's major arms supplier; it provides more than $100 million annually to Hezbollah. Recent Iranian shipments to Hez-bollah have included "Fajr" and Khaybar series rockets that, in 2006, Hezbollah fired at the Israeli city of Haifa (30 miles from the border), and over 10,000 Katyusha rockets that were fired at cities within 20 miles of the Lebanese border. In addition, Iranian authorities have also supplied Hezbollah with unmanned aerial vehicles that Hezbollah flew over the Israel-Lebanon border on November 7, 2004, and April 11, 2005. Israeli forces shot down at least three of these Hezbollah unmanned aerial vehicles during the 2006 fighting. On July 14, 2006, Hezbollah apparently hit an Israeli warship with a C-802 sea-skimming missile, which had also been supplied by Iran. UN monitors and international diplomacy have failed to prevent Iranian officials from re-supplying Hezbollah in contravention of the ceasefire. In May 2008, Hezbollah forces briefly turned their guns on fellow Lebanese when they seized West Beirut from the Lebanese Army, although, their demonstration of power complete, they later withdrew
Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites. The physical magnitude of the effort is daunting. Is the International Atomic Energy Agency technically, and in terms of human resources, up to so complex and vast an assignment?
In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. Devising theoretical models of inspection is one thing. Enforcing compliance, week after week, despite competing international crises and domestic distractions, is another. Any report of a violation is likely to prompt debate over its significance—or even calls for new talks with Tehran to explore the issue. The experience of Iran’s work on a heavy-water reactor during the “interim agreement” period—when suspect activity was identified but played down in the interest of a positive negotiating atmosphere—is not encouraging.
Compounding the difficulty is the unlikelihood that breakout will be a clear-cut event. More likely it will occur, if it does, via the gradual accumulation of ambiguous evasions.
One critical lesson from history is that would-be proliferators try to sneak out; they don’t breakout. Six countries have been found by the IAEA to have violated their nonproliferation commitments: Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Romania and Syria. Each of these states was guilty of clandestinely conducting nuclear activities that it was legally obliged to report. None made a brazen attempt to divert declared nuclear material that was under the watchful eyes of international inspectors.
Iran’s own nuclear program is a case in point. It acquired centrifuge technology in the 1980s and 1990s from the illicit supply network run by the notorious Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. Its uranium-enrichment experiments should have been reported to the IAEA and monitored, but were instead kept secret. By the time Iran’s nuclear program was publicly revealed, in August 2002, it was operating one secret facility in Tehran and was constructing a further two, including a large subterranean plant, at Natanz.
Being outed did not, however, stop Iran from a second sneak-out attempt. In 2006, it resumed tunneling into a mountain near the holy city of Qom and subsequently began to prepare the facility for the installation of centrifuges. Tehran should have declared this facility right away, but failed to do so until September 2009—when Western intelligence agencies, which had learned of its existence, were preparing to reveal it.
Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States. It is a revolutionary regime that is committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel. Iran has held American diplomats hostage, currently holds Americans, including journalists, hostage and has killed hundreds of American servicemen and women in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, directly or through proxies, since taking power. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long-term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and delivery systems.
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President Obama has stated that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not based on trust but on rigorous monitoring and verification. Iran has repeatedly proven itself a master of denial and deception in cheating on every nuclear agreement it has signed to date. The expectation, based on over twenty years of experience, is that Iran will cheat again if it can get away with it.
Unfortunately, the terms of the agreement do not provide for an effective means to detect or deter cheating, unless Iran decides to violate its commitments openly at declared facilities under IAEA monitoring. Here, the added access and information that Iran must provide under the Additional Protocol and other relevant provisions of the JCPOA would be beneficial. The problem is that Teheran is less likely to cheat in front of the international inspectors than at undeclared sites such as military bases where it has cheated in the past and where Iran’s Supreme Leader has ruled out any inspections.
In fact, the suspect site provisions contained in the JCPOA – the managed access and the dispute resolution procedures – are significantly weaker than the measures contained in the standard Additional Protocol. Twenty-four hour notice is replaced by a 24 day notice. And if Iran continues to object, the procedures could result in additional delays of days or weeks before Iran is actually confronted with the choice of permitting access or having the case referred to the Security Council – something Iran has never seemed all that concerned about in the first instance. In short, instead of anywhere, anytime, unfettered access to places, people and documentation – all essential for effective verification – implementation of the JCPOA is dependent on Iran’s cooperation.