A recent International Atomic Energy Agency assessment makes clear why the controversial Iranian nuclear talks are so vital to the security of Israel, the Mideast and all the world.
And why it is vital for all parties to pursue an agreement that includes unannounced inspections of Iranian facilities – anywhere, any time – to verify that no clandestine nuclear efforts are being secretly conducted.
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Without that provision in a nuclear agreement, there is no way the United States or any of its allies – especially Israel – can ever gather reliable information about what is happening, and not happening, inside Iran’s nuclear installations.
The principle of unfettered nuclear inspections is the only negotiating path that will seem logical, plausible and doable to anyone who reads the assessment this week by the IAEA’s director general, Yukiya Amano, in the interview with The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson. That’s why it is unfortunate on Wednesday that Official Washington had to work so hard to find Mufson’s excellent article. The Post placed it way back on page A9 in the print edition and made it almost impossible to stumble across online.
And that’s too bad, because with the nuclear negotiations’ March deadline at hand, congressional Republicans have made a political video game out of lambasting President Barack Obama for a nuclear deal that they cannot really know about because the details haven’t been finalized. And Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu rode his political ranting to a big election comeback.
Amano’s key point is that even his IAEA experts cannot know what they are talking about unless Iran is compelled to accept unannounced verification inspections in which IAEA experts could go anywhere, any time to visit Iran’s military and nuclear sites.
He is especially concerned about what is happening inside Iran’s Parchin military complex. According to Amano, the IAEA has intelligence indicating that the Parchin complex has a high explosive chamber in which Iran has carried out experiments. “We would like to have access,” Amano said, “and we would like to clarify.” IAEA inspectors have twice been granted access to the Parchin complex, he said, but the inspectors were not permitted to visit buildings that the IAEA considers key to its mission. The IAEA head told the Post that Iran had replied to just one of the agency’s 12 queries about any “possible military dimensions” of previous Iranian nuclear program activities.
On Feb 19, the IAEA issued a report that outlined the agency’s concerns that Iran has conducted undisclosed nuclear experiments and tests at facilities where inspections haven’t been permitted. “The Agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” the IAEA report said.
Iran has informed the IAEA that it has 18 nuclear facilities, plus nine other sites at which nuclear material is kept. But the report said the IAEA “is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
Iran is desperate to get the international economic sanctions lifted that have so shackled its economy. So desperate, we can hope, that Tehran will finally be willing to forego its nuclear bomb-making quest to have a chance at true economic security. And someday, even prosperity.
But this may be the best – and perhaps the last – chance for Israel and the Middle East and the world at large to have a practical chance of insisting upon long-term inspections that can provide accurate on-site information and assurance that Iran is not secretly becoming a nuclear power. No one, not even Israel, can feel secure by making itself blind, and keeping its allies in the dark, about nuclear bomb-making inside Iran.
Israel’s security and ours requires us to see through to the end the not-quite-dead-yet nuclear negotiations with Iran. This isn’t just a hollow echo of Ronald Reagan’s favorite old Russian maxim, the line he loved to quote standing beside Mikhail Gorbachev: “Trust, but verify.”
It’s probably more like what Reagan was really thinking – and maybe wished he could say out loud, just once: Distrust, so verify!
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.