Obama comfortable with IAEA deal with Tehran to self-inspect nuke site

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The White House on Wednesday said it was “confident” in the abilities of the International Agency for Atomic Energy to monitor and inspect the possible military dimensions on Iran’s past nuclear work and was “comfortable” with confidential arrangements between the IAEA and Tehran to ensure compliance with the nuclear deal signed on July 14.

“As the administration has said before — including in classified briefings for both chambers of Congress — we are confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program, issues that in some cases date back more than a decade,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday in response to an Associated Press report that revealed the IAEA would cede investigative authority of a suspected nuclear site to Tehran.

“Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with arrangements, which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities. When it comes to monitoring Iran’s behavior going forward, the IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated to ensure Iran’s current program remains exclusively peaceful, the overarching objective of the JCPOA. Beyond that, we are not going to comment on a purported draft IAEA document,” Price said.

The revelation, based on a document seen by AP, was also shrugged off by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said, “I truly believe in this agreement,” after announcing that House Democrats have the votes to uphold President Barack Obama’s veto of a resolution against his Iran nuclear deal, if needed.

According to the document obtained by AP, the agreement worked out between the IAEA and Iran allows the Islamic Republic to use its own experts to inspect the Parchin nuclear site. The IAEA’s concession is unprecedented, according to a former senior IAEA official.

Iran has refused access to Parchin for years. Based on US, 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 at that military facility. The IAEA has also repeatedly cited evidence, based on satellite images, of possible attempts to sanitize the site since the alleged work stopped more than a decade ago.

The revelation was met with furious cynicism by Israel and US Republican leaders, with a leading senator calling the agreement to have Iran inspect its own suspect site “remarkably naive and incredibly reckless.”

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz immediately issued a caustic response. “One must welcome this global innovation and outside-the-box thinking,” he said in a statement dripping with sarcasm. “One can only wonder if the Iranian inspectors will also have to wait 24 days before being able to visit the site and look for incriminating evidence?”

Steinitz, the Israeli government’s point man on Iran, was alluding to the complex clauses in the agreement reached last month between world powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program, one of which provides Iran with 24-days notice of efforts to inspect suspect sites.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 24, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

Republican senators were also furious. “This side agreement shows that true verification is a sham, and it begs the question of what else the administration is keeping from Congress,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader. McCarthy also complained that Congress learned of the IAEA deal from the AP report and not from the administration.

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the UN 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 Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, called the agreement a “dangerous farce,” and accused the world powers who brokered the deal of acquiescing to Iran’s every demand.

“International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period. The standard of ‘anywhere, anytime’ inspections – so critical to a viable agreement – has dropped to ‘when Iran wants, where Iran wants, on Iran’s terms,’” Royce said Wednesday. “For weeks, Congress has been demanding access to this document to assess the viability of the inspections measures. Congress must now consider whether this unprecedented arrangement will keep Iran from cheating. This is a dangerous farce.”

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush also used the term “farce,” writing Wednesday on Twitter that “Nuclear inspections of state sponsors of terrorism can’t work on the honor system.”

Israel has slammed the deal concluded by the P5+1 powers and Iran, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu branding it a historic mistake that will both pave Iran’s path to the bomb and, by lifting sanctions, cement the Islamist regime in power and allow it fund more terrorist activity and other dangerous regional activities.

Netanyahu has lobbied Congress to reject the deal when it votes on it next month.

The AP report on the separate IAEA-Iran side-agreement relating to Parchin dryly termed the self-inspection clause “an unusual arrangement.”

It said news of the agreement would be “sure to roil American and Israeli critics of the main Iran deal signed by the US, Iran and five world powers in July.”

The investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the International Atomic Energy Agency is linked to a broader probe of allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear deal.

The Parchin deal is a separate, side agreement worked out directly between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers that signed the Iran nuclear deal were not party to this agreement but were briefed on it by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

Without divulging its contents, the Obama administration had previously described the document as nothing more than a routine technical arrangement between Iran and the IAEA on the particulars of inspecting the site.