Speaking of the Iran deal (6)

I’m posting a video of Tom Cotton commenting on the side deals to the Iran agreement and a video of Senator Melendez at work in yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deal following the footnotes in Omri Ceren’s email update:

Happy Friday from Washington DC, where lawmakers will be wrapping up a half-week of hearings on the final JCPOA deal with Iran. As always there are three levels of questions being hashed out: (1) will the deal work, to keep Iran a year from a bomb for ten years (verification and snapback), (2) if it does work, is it worth the cost of all the inducements Iran received (arms embargo, $150 billion windfall, nuclear cooperation, delisting terrorists, etc), and (3) is the framework even appropriate (the sunset clause)? Most of the hearings repeated what was already known across those three areas: the verification regime is broken because the Iranians will have 24 days to block the IAEA, the U.S. will effectively be arming and funding Iran, and the sunset clauses on uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing mean that Iran will be ushered into the nuclear club in just over a decade.

That said, there were a couple of newsy developments about the verification debate that are worth flagging.

The verification regime gets a zero rating – “not even one” – for detecting nuclear weapons design work – IAEA veteran Olli Heinonen – a physicist who worked at the agency for 27 years and sat atop the verification shop – was asked during a House Financial Services hearing on Wednesday to rate the verification regime on a scale from 1-10. But there’s not really a single verification regime, because under the JCPOA there are different standards of access to different kinds of Iranian facilities and work. For declared nuclear facilities, the IAEA gets anytime/anywhere access. For undeclared nuclear facilities, the IAEA has to wait at least 24 days if the Iranians block them. And for weapons design work, there’s functionally almost no access.

That last category – the weapons design work – gets a bit wonky but is a critical part of ensuring that the Iranians aren’t weaponizing. In his full testimony Heinonen described it this way: “[I]tems related to nuclear weapon design listed in Annex I of the JCPOA… are extremely difficult to verify given their non-nuclear nature and lack of easy signature to spot. Items include, inter alia, designing, developing, acquiring, or using computer models to simulate nuclear explosive devices; and designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using multi-point explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device” [a]

So Heinonen divided up the inspection regime into those three parts and ranked them separately. For declared facilities he said he’d give the regime a 7 or 8, which makes sense since those facilities are under continuous monitoring (which is exactly why the Iranians would cheat elsewhere). For undeclared facilities he said “[no] more than a 5”, which also makes sense since he had already told reporters that 24 days is more than enough time for the Iranians to sanitize the small facilities where they’re likely to cheat [b]. And as for weapons design work: “And then if you ask my opinion which are the possibilities to find these computer codes and someone using them and there is not really even an inspection procedure for that, I think it’s a zero. It’s not even one.”

The verification regime is at risk of being gutted by IAEA collapses on PMDs, specifically on Parchin – Parchin is a military base where Iran conducted work related to the detonation of nuclear warheads [c]. Iran has been blocking the IAEA from accessing Parchin and using the time to literally pave the site over [d]. Access to Parchin – and more specifically, resolving the nature of possible hydrodynamic experiments conducted there – was a one of the dozen PMD concerns that the Iranians were obligated to fully resolve as part of the interim JPOA [e]. The Iranians fully resolved none of those concerns, and instead the international community – at the last moment in Vienna – leaned on the IAEA to renegotiate those concerns and repackage them into the “Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues,” which got wrapped into the final JCPOA [f]. But the Roadmap doesn’t explain how Parchin had been renegotiated: the relevant paragraph is paragraph 5, which only says “Iran and the IAEA agreed on another separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.”

Yesterday’s SFRC hearing revealed what the new arrangement is. Apparently the environmental sampling at Iran’s Parchin base is going to be conducted by the Iranians themselves. Senators had presumably been briefed on the arrangement in closed session Wednesday, then Sen. Risch mentioned it during Thursday’s open session, and Sen. Menendez followed up: “is it true that the Iranians are going to be able to take the sample, as Sen. Risch said?” Kerry responded with “as you know, Senator, that is a classified component of this; it’s supposed to be discussed in a classified session.” [g].

The concession – which lawmakers seemed reluctant to accept – appears to confirm the administration collapsed on at least some PMD demands. The robust resolution of the IAEA’s concerns has long been considered the basic prerequisite to setting up a robust verification regime: IAEA has to establish what Iran did to ensure they’ve stopped, and they have to establish how close the Iranians got to a bomb to know how far they have left to go. Kerry was saying as recently as April that the Iranians would have to meet their PMD obligations [h].

But then in the middle of June he addressed the State Department press corps and reversed himself: “we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in” [i]. What followed was a week-long meltdown in the briefing room and articles like the one in Bloomberg View – “No, U.S. Doesn’t Have ‘Absolute Knowledge’ on Iran’s Nukes” [j] – and analysis from veteran diplomats like James Jeffrey – “there is a term for this that folks all over the region understand, and which Iran greatly values: ‘winning'” [k].

[a] http://financialservices.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hhrg-114-ba00-wstate-oheinonen-20150722.pdf
[b] http://freebeacon.com/national-security/ex-iaea-leader-24-day-inspection-delay-will-boost-iranian-nuclear-cheating/
[c] http://www.isisnucleariran.org/sites/detail/parchin/
[d] http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Parchin_site_22August2013.pdf
[e] http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/06/28/iran-nuclear-pmd-idUKL5N0ZE0G720150628
[f] http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Possible_Military_Dimensions_Final.pdf
[g] https://youtu.be/N4TK8hOLrNA?t=9m44s
[h] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/iran-must-disclose-past-nuclear-military-activities-final-deal-says-kerry/
[i] http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/06/243892.htm
[j] http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-19/no-u-s-doesn-t-have-absolute-knowledge-on-iran-s-nukes
[k] http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/behind-the-non-flub-on-irans-weaponization-program

Now the videos. NewsBusters’ Mark Finkelstein flags this video featuring Tom Cotton commenting earlier this week on the side deals

PJ Media’s Bridget Johnson dubs yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing featuring Secretaries Kerry and Moniz “Loopholepalooza” and posts the video below featuring Senator Menendez. You can see why the Obama administration might want to put Melendez behind bars.