Pos­si­ble se­cret weapons fa­cil­i­ties at is­sue

West wants lee­way to search any sus­pected nu­clear site in Iran.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Richter

WASH­ING­TON — Over the last 20 months, world pow­ers seek­ing a nu­clear deal with Iran have worked out ten­ta­tive agree­ments to mon­i­tor and se­cure the coun­try’s known nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties to pre­vent it from build­ing a bomb.

But as ne­go­ti­a­tions near a June 30 dead­line, diplo­mats are still at odds over a tougher is­sue: how to keep tabs on mil­i­tary bases and other sites where the Ira­ni­ans might se­cretly work on a weapon.

The six-na­tion diplo­matic bloc ne­go­ti­at­ing with Iran wants United Na­tions nu­clear in­spec­tors to be able to poke around so-called un­de­clared fa­cil­i­ties if they sus­pect nu­clear work is go­ing on. Such “chal­lenge in­spec­tions” raise sen­si­tive is­sues of na­tional sovereignty and pride that set off years-long strug­gles with Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraq, North Korea and Iran.

With Iran’s known en­rich­ment fa­cil­i­ties at Natanz and For­dow, as well as a heavy-wa­ter re­ac­tor at Arak, un­der in­ter­na­tional over­sight, the coun­try’s lead­ers would al­most cer­tainly look else­where to con­duct any se­cret nu­clear work, said Gary Samore, for­mer non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ad­vi­sor to Pres­i­dent Obama.

“It’s the un­de­clared sites that are the real threat,” he


Many West­ern of­fi­cials say a com­pre­hen­sive deal with Iran is still likely even though talks may stretch past the cur­rent dead­line. But they ac­knowl­edge that chal­lenge in­spec­tions are among the is­sues that could still sink the talks.

Sev­eral months ago, U.S. of­fi­cials thought they had agree­ment in prin­ci­ple on a com­pro­mise plan: The U.N.’s nu­clear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, would have wide lat­i­tude to in­ves­ti­gate un­de­clared sites, but Iran would be able to dis­pute those re­quests in an in­ter­na­tional fo­rum.

But Iran’s ne­go­tia­tors back­tracked af­ter supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei be­gan in­sist­ing he would never al­low for­eign­ers into Ira­nian mil­i­tary bases.

The five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil — the United States, Bri­tain, France, Rus­sia and China — plus Ger­many are ne­go­ti­at­ing with Iran for a deal that would ease tough in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions if Iran agrees to re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing strict mon­i­tor­ing and in­spec­tions, aimed at pre­vent­ing it from ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon.

Iran de­nies any in­ter­est in build­ing a bomb, but the ma­jor pow­ers have rea­son to dis­trust it. Af­ter all, the ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­i­ties at Natanz and For­dow were built and op­er­ated in se­cret un­til dis­closed by out­siders.

In public, U.S. of­fi­cials have said in­spec­tors must be given “any­where, any­time” ac­cess to sites where nu­clear work is sus­pected. The ad­min­is­tra­tion will not ac­cept a deal un­less ac­cess is granted “to what­ever Ira­nian sites are re­quired to ver­ify that Iran’s pro­gram is ex­clu­sively peace­ful — pe­riod,” Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech Mon­day.

In the ne­go­ti­at­ing rooms, how­ever, U.S. diplo­mats aren’t de­mand­ing im­me­di­ate ac­cess.

Rather, they’ve sig­naled that they’re will­ing to al­low a panel some time to con­sider Ira­nian ob­jec­tions and weigh the ev­i­dence be­fore al­low­ing a chal­lenge in­spec­tion to pro­ceed.

The world pow­ers have stud­ied a pro­posal to have in­spec­tion re­quests judged by a com­mis­sion, with vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the six pow­ers, Iran and pos­si­bly the Euro­pean Union.

Ac­cess would be granted if a ma­jor­ity of the eight sup­ported an In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, or IAEA, re­quest for ac­cess. That means that Iran alone — or Iran backed by Rus­sia and China — wouldn’t have the votes to stop an in­spec­tion if the United States and the other com­mis­sion mem­bers fa­vored it.

The pro­posal calls for a max­i­mum of 30 days for de­lib­er­a­tions by the com­mis­sion on IAEA re­quests for in­spec­tions.

That could be enough time for Iran to con­ceal some re­cent nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties if it wanted to, Samore said. But it wouldn’t be enough time to hide ev­i­dence of the ura­nium en­rich­ment fa­cil­i­ties Iran would need to cre­ate the fis­sile ma­te­rial re­quired for a bomb.

If Iran re­fused to co­op­er­ate or was found to have cheated, sanc­tions could be quickly reim­posed, or “snapped back,” as diplo­mats de­scribe it.

That ap­proach would pro­vide “a strong mech­a­nism” to en­sure ac­cess, said a West­ern diplo­mat who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied in dis­cussing the closed-door talks. “And that’s what we need.”

Some out­side ex­perts, in­clud­ing some who have urged a tough ap­proach to Iran, agree.

“This would be very im­pres­sive,” said Samore, who heads a group called United Against Nu­clear Iran.

It would be more in­tru­sive than any U.N. in­spec­tions regime ex­cept those im­posed on Iraq af­ter the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when it was a con­quered na­tion, Samore said. The in­spec­tors ul­ti­mately dis­man­tled Iraq’s chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons pro­grams as well as an un­ex­pect­edly large nu­clear devel­op­ment in­fra­struc­ture, he said.

One risk to the plan is that the sanc­tions “snap­back” might prove in­suf­fi­cient to com­pel Iran’s co­op­er­a­tion.

Although ne­go­tia­tors are de­bat­ing how to shape the snap­back pro­vi­sions, the six world pow­ers want to write them into the fi­nal nu­clear agree­ment and in­clude sim­i­lar lan­guage in a new U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion. The res­o­lu­tion would for­mally im­ple­ment the deal and give it in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy.

Some ex­perts worry that Rus­sia and China, which have con­sis­tently re­sisted U.N. ac­tions that would weaken their Se­cu­rity Coun­cil lever­age, might balk at the last mo­ment and refuse to vote for the res­o­lu­tion.

“For them to give up their veto is a big deal,” said Ilan Gold­en­berg, a for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial now at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, a Wash­ing­ton think tank. “At the last mo­ment, they might say, ‘That’s not what we agreed to.’ ”

An­other pos­si­ble ob­sta­cle is Iran’s re­cent warn­ings that it won’t al­low U.N. in­spec­tors ac­cess to mil­i­tary sites. West­ern of­fi­cials and pri­vate ex­perts are di­vided on how se­ri­ously to take those threats. Many view them as bar­gain­ing tac­tics aimed at build­ing pres­sure for con­ces­sions and pre­dict Iran ul­ti­mately will back down rather than risk los­ing the deal.

Oth­ers be­lieve Ira­nian ne­go­tia­tors have back­tracked be­cause of grow­ing pres­sure from hard-lin­ers at home who con­tend such in­tru­sive in­spec­tions would vi­o­late Iran’s sovereignty and risk its se­cu­rity.

“The most pos­i­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion is they’re just seek­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age,” said Richard Nephew, a sanc­tions ex­pert who was part of the U.S. team un­til ear­lier this year. “But if they start back­ing away from this key el­e­ment, that be­comes a real prob­lem for the ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

‘For [Rus­sia and China] to give up their veto is a big deal. At the last mo­ment, they might say, “That’s not what we agreed to.” ’

— Ilan Gold­en­berg, Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity

Su­san Walsh AFP/Getty Images

JOHN F. KERRY with Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif late last month in Geneva.

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