They’ve got a secret

The latest report from the nuclear negotiations with Iran indicates that they are likely to be extended. The deadline is Monday and “big gaps” remain, despite the Western powers’ strenuous efforts to surrender. Omri Ceren emails a status update suggesting that the negotiations have descended into a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. Omri’s message expands on this Reuters report from earlier this afternoon:

Reuters broke this about 90 minutes ago: the P5+1 “will likely stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran.”

The concession – which involves letting Iran slide on its obligation to come clean over the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its atomic program – is likely to prove enormously controversial both politically and substantively. I’ve pasted the whole article below if you want to read the whole thing. It includes flabbergasted quotes from Western officials like “I believe the PMD issue is not a deal-breaker even though it probably should be.”

Politically, the demand has been a cornerstone of Western diplomacy and a key way the Obama administration reassured skeptics of its diplomacy:

* The demand was a hard-fought part of United Nations Security Council 1929, which demands that “Iran shall cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme, including by providing access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (

* The Obama administration has since the very beginning told its that it would force full Iranian disclosure. Sept 2009 President Obama declared that “Iran is on notice that… they are going to have to come clean.” ( In January 2013 Kerry doubled down on the position, declaring that “the president has made it definitive” that Iran needs to answer all “questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.” (

There will be people who advocate letting Iran slide, and they’ll tell lawmakers and journalists that it would be humiliating for the Iranians to admit they played around with nuke experiments. What’s the point of embarrassing the Iranians just to embarrass the Iranians? Why force a “mea culpa”?

That very, very badly misunderstands the PMD issue. The reason PMDs matter so much politically is because they matter so much sbstantively. Full disclosure has long been recognized a critical prerequisite to any verification regime. It’s how inspectors were going to benchmark the Iranian program. They’re not (just) interested in the Iranian military’s full-blown weapons work. Instead they need to know all of the atomic work that the Iranian military has conducted. That includes uranium mining, centrifuge construction, enrichment, etc. The goal is to get a full picture of everything the Iranians are doing and have done, so that inspectors can verify they’ve stopped them. It’s not a “mea culpa” issue. It’s about benchmarking a deal.

Otherwise the entire deal might end up being just for show. The Iranians can commit to keeping only X amount of uranium in country, but that’s meaningless without knowing how much total uranium they actually have. Ditto for centrifuges they commit to putting offline. Ditto for R&D they commit to forgoing. We’ll have a situation where we can’t be sure that 100% of the Iranian program is being monitored under an agreement. It could be 75%. It could be 50%. Without full disclosure there’s no way to know.

If there’s really been a collapse, it will supercharge skepticism of the deal.

UPDATE: This Jerusalem Post story includes several administration quotes defending the merits of the proposal, while Omri Ceren emails additional citations to his commentary on the Reuters article:

( ) Singh: without full insight into PMD issues, monitoring and inspections are irrelevant
Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Times Dispatch, “Singh: Go beyond ‘first-step’ deal with Iran,” 2013,
Without insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors’ view. A final agreement must sharply curtail the nuclear capacity left in place by this first diplomatic step and require Iran to come clean on the full range of past and present nuclear work by all Iranian entities.

( ) Heinonen: huge risks associated with not establishing PMD timeline
David E. Sanger, NYT, “Long Absent, Nuclear Expert Still Has Hold on Iran Talks,” 6/24/14,
You don’t need to see every nut and bolt…But you are taking a heck of a risk if you don’t establish a baseline of how far they went,” because it would be far more difficult to understand Iran’s timelines to a weapon.

( ) Eisenstadt: the PMD issue is key — failure to acknowledge military dimensions emboldens Iranian leaders and makes sustainable monitoring agreements impossible to negotiate
Michael Eisenstadt, Kahn Fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program, “Building on the Joint Plan of Action: Toward a Sustainable Nuclear Deal with Iran,” 12/6/13,
…the White House fact sheet on the “first-step understandings” with Tehran mentions the regime’s “acknowledgement” that it must resolve “questions concerning the possible military dimensions of [its] nuclear program,” including “activities at Parchin,” …Clarifying this issue is crucial because Iran’s leaders hold that the moral and psychological dimensions of statecraft and strategy trump the technological and material…Believing that perception is reality, Tehran tends to focus on spin and image management, investing great effort in imposing its narrative in order to cultivate support at home and a more conducive environment abroad for its foreign policy objectives. In the past decade, the nuclear issue has become the lynchpin of this narrative. Tehran’s most important goal in negotiating with the P5+1, then, is to win the war of the narratives. From the regime’s perspective, this means emphasizing that Iran…has not sought to develop nuclear weapons and will not in the future; that allegations about a nuclear weapons program are part of an American-Zionist conspiracy to unjustly smear the Islamic Republic, keep it weak and isolated, and impede the scientific development of the Muslim world; and that demands for intrusive inspections and restrictions on its nuclear program reflect a discriminatory double standard. Washington has done little so far to publicly counter this narrative. Getting Tehran to acknowledge that it had a nuclear weapons program would dramatically alter the negotiating dynamic by puncturing this carefully constructed narrative and proving that international concerns are justified. Specifically, such an admission would strengthen the P5+1’s case for protracted special monitoring arrangements and restrictions while making it very hard for Tehran to credibly claim that these measures are discriminatory. It might also keep Tehran from leaving the negotiating table, since many Iranians would otherwise blame their leaders for failing to obtain sanctions relief. In fact, this is probably the main reason why Tehran has rebuffed all efforts to investigate the program’s possible military dimensions thus far.

( ) Albright: a final deal that doesn’t address PMD concerns decks administration credibility, emboldens Iranians to resist IAEA monitoring and undermines the overall verifiability of the deal
David Albright, President, ISIS,“Parchin: Resolution Urgent,” 5/12/14,
A deal that does not include Iran addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the past and possibly on-going military dimensions of its nuclear program would undermine the verifiability of the deal, and thus the credibility of a comprehensive deal, in addition to the credibility of the Obama administration… Iran would feel emboldened to resist future IAEA efforts, despite any future implementation of the Additional Protocol…

( ) Albright and Tertrais: Iranian failure to come clean undermines the IAEA, makes a verifiable final deal impossible and creates a model for other clandestinely proliferating states to follow
David Albright, Bruno Tertrais, The Wall Street Journal, “Making Iran Come Clean About Its Nukes,” 5/14/14,
A prerequisite for any final agreement is for Iran to address nuclear-weapons questions raised by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. If Iran is able to successfully evade questions about a weapons program…why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted? What use will an agreement be if Iran can hide a capacity to secretly build nuclear bombs?…To be credible, a final agreement must ensure that any effort by Tehran to construct a bomb would be sufficiently time-consuming and detectable that the international community could act decisively to prevent Iran from succeeding. It is critical to know whether the Islamic Republic had a nuclear-weapons program in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced and whether it continues. Without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement… Unless Iran takes seriously its obligations to the IAEA to address concerns about past military-nuclear efforts, Tehran will have established a powerful precedent of no-go zones for inspectors. Tehran could declare a suspect site a military base and thus off-limits. What better place to conduct clandestine, prohibited activities, such as uranium enrichment and weaponization? Tehran would have also defeated a central tenet of IAEA inspections: the need to determine both the accuracy and completeness of a state’s nuclear declaration. Other countries contemplating the clandestine development of nuclear weapons will certainly watch Tehran closely…If the West fails to demand that Iran verifiably fess up to the military dimensions of its nuclear program, the odds are good that Ayatollah Khamenei would be able to build the bomb without fear of discovery.

( ) Fitzpatrick: coming clean about EBWs necessary, “gets to the heart” of PMD issues
Frederik Dahl, Reuters, “U.N. nuclear agency seeks detonator clarification from Iran – sources,” 5/9/14,
“Answering questions about EBW is significant – assuming the answers are substantive and sincere – because it gets to the heart of one of the sticky issues involving allegations of past nuclear work of a possible military dimension,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.
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