Goodnight Vienna (6)

There are no surprises in Omri Ceren’s latest email update from Vienna, but if you have been following his reports, you will find this of interest (footnoted URLs at the bottom). Omri writes:

The parties missed another deadline this morning, and talks are now expected to go through the end of the week. Mogherini told reporters this morning: “I am not talking about extension. I am talking about taking the hours we need to try to complete our work”(?). The overwhelming consensus from press and analysts here in Vienna nonetheless hasn’t changed: the parties will indeed announce some kind of agreement before they leave, though it will almost certainly have details that will need to be sorted out in future negotiations. How that aligns with the administration’s legal obligation to provide Congress with all final details the deal is anyone’s guess at this point.

Meanwhile the Obama administration and its allies are laying the groundwork for another U.S. collapse, this time on inspections. Couple of indicators:

(1) They’re giving up on promising the most robust inspection/verification regime in history – Here’s President Obama during his April 2 speech about the Lausanne announcement: “Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history” [a]. Here’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the beginning of May echoing the boast: “what President Obama has indicated must be part of any nuclear agreement… is the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program” [b].

But now here’s White House validator Daryl Kimball talking to Politico a couple days ago: “this particular agreement will establish the most extensive, multilayered system of nuclear monitoring and verification for any country not defeated in a war” [c]. Catch the caveat about wartime defeat? The talking point had already been floated at the beginning of the Vienna talks by RAND’s Alireza Nader talking the JTA: “If the goal is ‘anytime, anywhere’ access and unlimited inspections, it’s not realistic asking a sovereign country not defeated in war.” [d]. Yesterday Jofi Joseph, a former nonproliferation official in the Obama White House, told the LAT that the Iranians can’t be expected to submit to anytime/anywhere inspections for the same reason: “What is forgotten is that Iraq was militarily defeated in a humiliating rout and had little choice but to accept [anytime/anywhere inspections]” [e].

For 20 months the administration promised Congress that Iran had been sufficiently coerced by sanctions that Tehran would accept anytime/anywhere inspections. Many in Congress disagreed and urged the administration to boost American leverage by working with the Hill to pass time-triggered sanctions. The administration responded with two different media wars that included accusations – including some by the President – describing lawmakers as warmongers beholden to “donor” money. Congress was right and the administration was wrong. Why would lawmakers now accept a weaker inspection regime than what the administration said it could secure, and what administration officials smeared lawmakers for doubting?

(2) A new talking point is that the IAEA’s technology makes up for the P5+1 collapsing on inspections – This appeared in two articles yesterday (the NYT [f] and the Daily Beast [g]). The two stories are fantastically geeky reads about the IAEA’s toys, but that’s not what the administration officials and validators wanted to focus on. Instead you had Energy Secretary Moniz telling the NYT that the technology “lowers the requirement for human inspectors going in” and Kimball telling the Daily Beast that the technology meant that the IAEA would be able to “detect [nuclear activities] without going directly into certain areas.”

This argument is terrible and scientists should be embarrassed they’re making it. In its story the NYT quoted Olli Heinonen – a 27-year veteran of the IAEA who sat atop the agency’s verification shop – all but rolling his eyes:

Mr. Heinonen, the onetime inspection chief, sounded a note of caution, saying it would be naïve to expect that the wave of technology could ensure Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. In the past, he said, Tehran has often promised much but delivered little. “Iran is not going to accept it easily,” he said, referring to the advanced surveillance. “We tried it for 10 years.” Even if Tehran agrees to high-tech sleuthing, Mr. Heinonen added, that step will be “important but minor” compared with the intense monitoring that Western intelligence agencies must mount to see if Iran is racing ahead in covert facilities to build an atomic bomb.

The most fundamental problem is that IAEA procedures require physical environmental samples to confirm violations. They can use futuristic lasers and satellites to *detect* that Iran is cheating. But to *confirm* the cheating they need environmental samples, and usually multiple rounds of samples. Without that level of proof – which requires access – the agency simply wouldn’t tell the international community that it was certain Iran is violation. If you need a paragraph on the procedure click on this link and ctrl-f to “Yet if Iran tries to conceal what it is doing…” [h]. If inspectors can’t get into a facility, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be comfortable declaring that Iran was violating its obligations.

That’s before even beginning the discussion about why technology can’t make up for access to people, facilities, and documents – without which the IAEA won’t even know where to point its lasers and satellites.

But is what the administration has left: the Iranians can’t be expected to grant anytime/anywhere access but that’s OK because the IAEA has cool toys.