Resolving the Nuclear Transparency Gap
With the June 30th deadline for Iran nuclear talks looming, the fate of a comprehensive final deal hinges on the abilities of both sides, i.e., Iran and the world powers, to bridge the existing gaps that threaten the talks. Despite reports of solid progress in drafting the final agreement, the remaining obstacles might cause a further extension of the deadline, given the technical, legal, and political complexities, one of which pertains to the West's demand that the final deal must include intrusive inspections and access to Iran's scientists; the latter pertain to what the UN's atomic agency has labeled as "Possible Military Dimension" (PMD) to Iran's nuclear program.
Per the political agreement reached in Lausanne in early April between Iran and the "5 +1" nations -- U.S., China, Russia, England, France, and Germany -- the lifting of Iran sanctions would transpire after the verification of Iran's implementation of its obligations under the final deal by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has complained of lack of progress in resolving the PMD issues. Iran's leaders on the other hand have adamantly opposed the inspection of Iran's military facilities and the interrogation of Iranian scientists as part of any final agreement.
Recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted that the U.S. might not insist on the PMD and focus instead on a forward-looking deal that would address the proliferation concerns of the international community. The State Department spokesman John Kirby has however insisted that the Kerry statement does not reflect a policy change on U.S's part and "the sanctions lifting will only occur as Iran takes the steps agreed, including addressing possible military dimensions."
But, there are several good reasons to support Secretary Kerry's approach for the sake of a timely breakthrough in the nuclear talks. First, there are legitimate concerns and doubts about the "evidence" relating to the PMD issue, in light of the revelation by the New York Times reporter James Risen, in his 2006 book "State of War," that the CIA had attempted to plant evidence in Iran to make it seem like Iran was pursuing bombs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Second, the PMD issue pertains to Iran's alleged nuclear activities prior to 2003, that is, the year of invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition under WMD concerns. Certainly, Iran which had been invaded by Iraq in early 1980s shared those concerns at the time and, in fact, there were serious worries that Saddam Hussain was on his way to acquire the bombs and would not hesitate to use them against Iran, just as he had with chemical weapons during the 1908-1988 bloody conflict. Iran no longer has such nuclear concerns and, therefore, the focus should be on the future rather than the past.
Third, Iran has already agreed to adopt the IAEA's intrusive Additional Protocol, which allows inspection of Iran's sites following a set procedure through the agency's governing board and the presentation of credible evidence warranting such inspections. This, together with the robust surveillance of Iran's nuclear facilities, e.g., through daily inspections and surveillance cameras, effectively ensure that any future military diversions would be quickly discovered.
Fourth, several of Iran's nuclear scientists have been assassinated in the past and therefore Iran has legitimate concerns that access to its scientists might jeopardize their lives. Fifth, even the IAEA's chief, Yukiya Amano, has admitted that resolving the PMD issue is a lengthy process and the agency lacks the resources to thoroughly investigate such issues, e.g., sorting out credible evidence from planted evidence.
Notwithstanding the above-said, unless the West and Iran reach a compromise on the thorny PMD issue, there is little prospect for a "win-win" final deal -- that can break the Iran-US ice and renew the trade and (in the long run) even diplomatic relations between the two countries. The failure of the talks would mean Iran's return to 20 percent or even higher uranium enrichment and limited outside access to its nuclear facilities, hardly a desired outcome, which can be avoided by prudent diplomacy on both sides.