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Congressional Comment on Iran Deal/IAEA document shows Iran to inspect itself at Parchin

Aug 21, 2015

Update from AIJAC

August 21, 2015
Number 08/15 #04

With US debate about last month’s Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, continuing to foment in the lead up an expected Congressional vote in September, this Update features two articles from Congressional leaders explaining their reasons for planning to oppose the deal. It also includes some new information, uncovered by the Associated Press, about an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) side-deal with Iran concerning the investigation of the Parchin site – long alleged to be a centre for Iran’s nuclear weaponisation research – that is almost certain to excite even more Congressional opposition.

We lead with an excerpt from Democrat Senator Robert Menendez’s explanation of why he rejects the deal in its current form and is still hopeful an improved deal can be achieved. Menendez, long a proponent of strong pressure on the Iranian regime on the nuclear front, disputes the White House contentions that no better deal was attainable, and no one has been able to suggest a better solution. He characterises the JCPOA deal as nothing more than “10 years of inspection and verification in exchange for permanent sanctions relief and for revoking Iran’s pariah status” and calls for renewal of the talks to improve the JCPOA’s terms in six specific respects. For the details of what he recommends, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Senator Bob Corker, the Republican who chairs the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker says he approached the deal with an open mind but has come to the conclusion that it will not “prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program”, but instead, eventually “industrializes the program of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.” He argues that the US has considerable leverage over Iran now, but this will dissipate when sanctions are lifted next year under the agreement, and notes Congress has rejected or amended many deals in the past, arguing it should do the same to this one. For the complete argument from this influential Congressional figure, CLICK HERE.

Finally, the Associated Press claims to have seen the text of an agreement which confirms something which had only previously been rumoured – that a side-deal to the JCPOA, between Iran and the IAEA, says that the IAEA will not inspect the suspected Iranian weaponisation research site at Parchin as part of its efforts to conclude its investigation of past “Possible Military Dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, it will rely on Iran to supply pictures and videos as well as soil samples from the site, while the IAEA will take unexplained steps to “ensure the technical authenticity” of the material given to it by the Iranians. The article quotes Republican opponents of the deal as, not surprisingly, very concerned about these revelations, but also former senior IAEA inspector Olli Heinonen stating that such an arrangement appears unprecedented. For the full article, CLICK HERE. More on the reaction of opponents of the deal to this revelation is here.

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My proposal for a better Iran deal

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly said that the choice is between this Iran nuclear agreement and war. I reject that proposition.

If the P5+1 had not achieved an agreement, would we be at war with Iran? I don’t believe that. For all those who have said they have not heard — from anyone who opposes the agreement — a better solution, they’re wrong.

Advocates of the deal argue that a good deal that would have dismantled critical elements of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure isn’t attainable — that the Iranians were tough negotiators — and that despite our massive economic leverage and the weight of the international community we couldn’t buy more than 10 years of inspection and verification in exchange for permanent sanctions relief and for revoking Iran’s pariah status. I don’t believe that.

And I believe we could still get a better deal and here’s how: We can disapprove this agreement, without rejecting the entire agreement.

We should direct the administration to re-negotiate by authorizing the continuation of negotiations and the Joint Plan of Action — including Iran’s $700 million-a-month lifeline, which to date have accrued to Iran’s benefit to the tune of $10 billion, and pausing further reductions of purchases of Iranian oil and other sanctions pursuant to the original JPOA.

I’m even willing to consider authorizing a sweetener — a one-time release of a predetermined amount of funds as a good-faith down payment on the negotiations.
A continuation of talks would allow the re-consideration of just a few, but a critical few issues, including:

First, immediate ratification by Iran of the Additional Protocol to ensure we have a permanent international arrangement with Iran for access to suspect sites.

Second, a ban on centrifuge R&D for the duration of the agreement to ensure that Iran won’t have the capacity to quickly break out, just as the UN Security Council Resolution and sanctions snapback is off the table.

Third, close the Fordow enrichment facility. The sole purpose of Fordow was to harden Iran’s nuclear program to a military attack. We need to close the facility and foreclose Iran’s future ability to use this facility. If Iran has nothing to hide they shouldn’t need to put it under a mountain.

Fourth, the full resolution of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s program. We need an arrangement that isn’t set up to whitewash this issue. Iran and the IAEA must resolve the issue before permanent sanctions relief, and failure of Iran to cooperate should result in an automatic sanctions snapback.

Fifth, extend the duration of the agreement. One of the single most concerning elements of the deal is its 10-15 year sunset of restrictions on Iran’s program, with off-ramps starting after year eight. We were promised an agreement of significant duration and we got less than half of what we are looking for. Iran should have to comply for as long as they deceived the world, so at least 20 years.

And sixth, we need agreement now about what penalties will be collectively imposed by the P5+1 for Iranian violations, both small and midsized, as well as a clear statement as to the so-called grandfather clause in paragraph 37 of the JCPOA, to ensure that the US position about not shielding contracts entered into legally upon re-imposition of sanctions is shared by our allies.

At the same time we should: Extend the authorization of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires in 2016, to ensure that we have an effective snapback option; consider licensing the strategic export of American oil to allied countries struggling with supply because Iranian oil remains off the market; immediately implement the security measures offered to our partners in the Gulf Summit at Camp David, while preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge.

The president should unequivocally affirm and Congress should formally endorse a Declaration of US Policy that we will use all means necessary to prevent Iran from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, as well as building or buying one, both during and after any agreement.

We should authorize now the means for Israel to address the Iranian threat on their own in the event that Iran accelerates its program and to counter Iranian perceptions that our own threat to use force isn’t credible.

And we should make it absolutely clear that we want a deal, but we want the right deal — and that a deal that does nothing more than delay the inevitable isn’t a deal we will make.

Excerpted from remarks by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on Tuesday (see full text here.)

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Congress should reject the bad Iran deal

Washington Post, August 17

By passing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act with enough votes to overcome a veto, Congress ensured that it would have the opportunity to review and vote on the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Now that the Obama administration has reached what it believes to be an acceptable agreement, it is Congress’s responsibility to determine whether this agreement will be in our national interest, will make the United States safer and will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. I do not believe that it will.

Rather than end Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, over time this deal industrializes the program of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

For a deal that must be built on verification and not trust, the inspections process is deeply flawed. Through verbal presentations regarding possible military dimensions, many in Congress are aware of the unorthodox arrangements agreed to by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the administration and our negotiating partners to keep from upsetting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Those actual agreements remain secret, but we know that at best they are most unusual and speak to the P5+1’s low commitment to holding Iran’s feet to the fire.

Perhaps a larger issue is beyond the scope of the deal itself. Absent a clearly articulated policy for the region, this deal will become the linchpin of the United States’ Middle East strategy. We will be relying on Iran to help achieve our goals in Iraq, Syria and perhaps elsewhere. This abrupt rebalancing could have the effect of driving others in the region to take greater risks, leading to greater instability. Iran was fully aware of this, which helped the regime continually erode the deal to its benefit, and it will become an impediment when we try to push back against potential violations of the agreement.

Iran, on the other hand, does have a regional strategy that this deal will boost and strengthen.

Since negotiations began in earnest after President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June 2013, Iran has co-opted the Iraqi security sector, doubled down on its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and cemented Hezbollah as an expeditionary shock force.

The perception of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East reached its height in summer 2013, when President Obama decided against enforcing his own red line in Syria and chose not to conduct a limited strike against the Iranian-backed Assad regime in response to its use of chemical weapons. That November, the United States and other world powers signed an interim nuclear agreement with Iran as 100,000 Syrians lay dead. As negotiations continued and the administration ignored the crisis in Syria, the death toll climbed higher. By the time the final nuclear deal was reached last month, more than 200,000 Syrians had been killed.

In 2014, the carnage in Syria spilled into Iraq as the Islamic State took over large swaths of the country. While the United States struggled to find the right course of action, Iran filled the power vacuum. Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the traditionally secretive leader of the Iranian Quds Force who will benefit from sanctions relief under the nuclear agreement, left the shadows and gained celebrity as he led Iranian-funded militias in the fight against the Islamic State.

Many say now is the time for the United States to push back against Iran. The best way to do that is for Congress to reject an agreement that strengthens Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade, removes the conventional weapons and ballistic missile technology embargoes on Iran and allows for a U.S.-approved, industrial-scale enrichment program for which Iran has zero practical need.

We have more leverage than we will ever have, but under this deal that leverage will flip in approximately nine months, when most major sanctions are relieved. Iran will further deepen its regional strength.

Unfortunately, the agreement ties our hands in countering Iran’s efforts. If we try to push back, Iran will threaten to speed up its nuclear development since it already will have a windfall of money, a rapidly growing economy and alliances built with our partners, who will feast on the mercantile benefits of doing business with Iran.

The idea that a future president will somehow have the same options available as today, when Iran is poor and isolated, is fanciful.

I came to these negotiations with an open mind. Prioritizing engagement over coercion in an attempt to end three decades of animosity with Iran appeals to the American idealism in us all. And while we should strongly support diplomacy, the other side must believe there are real consequences in its failure. In this case, Iran never felt that, resulting in a very disappointing outcome for our country.

Throughout history, Congress has rejected or altered hundreds of international agreements, many of them multilateral. For the administration to say there is no other deal than this one is an effort to negate Congress’s important role and responsibility.

The administration has repeatedly stated that this agreement is about ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. Therefore, the agreement should be one that allows us to maintain leverage and ensure it is enforceable, is verifiable and holds Iran accountable.

This deal does not do that and instead leaves the United States vulnerable to a resurgent Iran wealthier and more able to work its will in the Middle East.

Congress should reject this deal and send it back to the president.

Bob Corker, a Republican, represents Tennessee in the Senate and is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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AP Exclusive: UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site


Associated Press, Aug. 19

VIENNA (AP) — Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press.

The revelation on Wednesday newly riled Republican lawmakers in the U.S. who have been severely critical of a broader agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the wider deal is unwisely built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.

A skeptical House Speaker John Boehner said, “President Obama boasts his deal includes `unprecedented verification.’ He claims it’s not built on trust. But the administration’s briefings on these side deals have been totally insufficient – and it still isn’t clear whether anyone at the White House has seen the final documents.”

Said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce: “International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period.”

The newly disclosed side agreement, for an investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, is linked to persistent allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear-limits deal.

Evidence of the inspections concession is sure to increase pressure from U.S. congressional opponents before a Senate vote of disapproval on the overall agreement in early September. If the resolution passes and President Barack Obama vetoes it, opponents would need a two-thirds majority to override it. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has suggested opponents will likely lose a veto fight, though that was before Wednesday’s disclosure.

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the U.N. in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless. This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement.”

The Parchin agreement was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

On Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration was “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program. … The IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated.”

All IAEA member countries must give the agency some insight into their nuclear programs. Some are required to do no more than give a yearly accounting of the nuclear material they possess. But nations- like Iran – suspected of possible proliferation are under greater scrutiny that can include stringent inspections.

The agreement in question diverges from normal procedures by allowing Tehran to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence of activities it has consistently denied – trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Olli Heinonen, who was in charge of the Iran probe as deputy IAEA director general from 2005 to 2010, said he could think of no similar concession with any other country.

The White House has repeatedly denied claims of a secret side deal favorable to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Republican senators last week that he was obligated to keep the document confidential.

Iran has refused access to Parchin for years and has denied any interest in – or work on – nuclear weapons. Based on U.S., Israeli and other intelligence and its own research, the IAEA suspects that the Islamic Republic may have experimented with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms.

The IAEA has cited evidence, based on satellite images, of possible attempts to sanitize the site since the alleged work stopped more than a decade ago.

The document seen by the AP is a draft that one official familiar with its contents said doesn’t differ substantially from the final version. He demanded anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue in public.

The document is labeled “separate arrangement II,” indicating there is another confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA governing the agency’s probe of the nuclear weapons allegations.

Iran is to provide agency experts with photos and videos of locations the IAEA says are linked to the alleged weapons work, “taking into account military concerns.”

That wording suggests that – beyond being barred from physically visiting the site – the agency won’t get photo or video information from areas Iran says are off-limits because they have military significance.

While the document says the IAEA “will ensure the technical authenticity” of Iran’s inspection, it does not say how.

The draft is unsigned but the proposed signatory for Iran is listed as Ali Hoseini Tash, deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for Strategic Affairs. That reflects the significance Tehran attaches to the agreement.

Iranian diplomats in Vienna were unavailable for comment, Wednesday while IAEA spokesman Serge Gas said the agency had no immediate comment.

The main focus of the July 14 deal between Iran and six world powers is curbing Iran’s present nuclear program that could be used to make weapons. But a subsidiary element obligates Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA in its probe of the past allegations.

The investigation has been essentially deadlocked for years, with Tehran asserting the allegations are based on false intelligence from the U.S., Israel and other adversaries. But Iran and the U.N. agency agreed last month to wrap up the investigation by December, when the IAEA plans to issue a final assessment.

That assessment is unlikely to be unequivocal. Still, it is expected to be approved by the IAEA’s board, which includes the United States and the other nations that negotiated the July 14 agreement. They do not want to upend their broader deal, and will see the December report as closing the books on the issue.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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