Losin’ in Lausanne

The Wall Street Journal has a scoop on the endgame in the negotiations with Iran over a deal on its nuclear program. The United States is folding on issues involving the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past work. The descent into absurdity continues. Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman report (story accessible here via Google):

Iran’s refusal to implement the IAEA work plan threatens to undermine the prospects for this comprehensive agreement, say diplomats involved in the talks. The ability of the IAEA and global powers to verify whether Iran is abiding by any future deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work, according to these officials.

The IAEA was empowered by the U.N. to investigate Iran’s alleged weapons research, and reports back to the Security Council. Lifting U.N. sanctions on Iran are supposed to be tied to a resolution of the dispute. But the six powers negotiating with Tehran have the power to set their own terms for an agreement.

“We are concentrating on verification issues,” Mr. Amano said about the specific role his agency plays.

The West has accused Iran of conducting weapons-related tests at military sites near Tehran, and having secret government offices dedicated to this work. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Iran had a dedicated nuclear weapons program, which they believe largely ended in 2003.

As a result, the U.S. and its negotiating partners are seeking to get Iran’s upfront approval to implement a scaled-back version of the IAEA’s 2013 agreement with Iran to a 12-step work plan to resolve questions related to possible weaponization work. Mr. Amano said Iran has addressed only one of the 12 areas.

The new plan would seek access to some of Iran’s sites and documents believed tied to past weaponization work, known in diplomatic parlance as “possible military dimensions,” or PMD.

What to do? Put it off into the rosy future:

Under the new plan, Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.

Writing by email from Lausanne, Omri Ceren explains:

The WSJ scoop…is huge precisely because it’s about a well-understood issue that goes back years. The West has been pushing Iran to come clean to the IAEA on whatever nuclear-related work the Iranian military has been doing: uranium mining, enrichment, weaponization, etc. The Iranians have refused, and are stonewalling on 11 of 12 issues. And so – per the Journal – “in response… the U.S. and its diplomatic partners are revising their demands on Iran.” Full disclosure will reportedly be put off until later in the deal, after sanctions relief has already been granted. I’ve pasted the full WSJ article below and then, below that, a checklist of the 12 PMDs in case you’re reporting this out and need specifics.

It’s important to remember why “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) matter. The label is a bit misleading: it makes it sound like the IAEA is only investigating weaponization work. That’s allowed some people to mischaracterize the issue as ‘the West is trying to extract a ‘mea culpa’ from the Iranians to embarrass them’ (the NYT had a typical example a few weeks ago, sourced to a former American negotiator who rhetorically asked “is it worth blowing up a potential agreement in the name of forcing a confession?”) But that’s not it.

PMD disclosure is about baselining all of Iran’s nuclear activities – not just its known civilian parts – as a prerequisite for verifying that those activities have been halted under a nuclear deal. Iran has uranium mines; some are civilian and some are military. It has centrifuges; some are operated by civilians and some by IRGC personnel. It has uranium stockpiles; some are maintained by civilians and some by the military. There’s no way for future inspectors to verify that Iran has shuttered its mines, stopped its centrifuges, and shipped off its stockpile – for instance – unless the IAEA knows where all the mines and stockpiles are.

No PMDs mean no verification….

If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns now, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted, regardless of anything it may pledge today?

That’s a question that answers itself.

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