Republicans say IAEA reaffirms fears of deal
The chief of the U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged Monday that samples used to determine whether Iran tried to develop a nuclear weapon were collected by the Iranians instead of agency investigators, touching off a fresh dispute between congressional Republicans and the White House over weaknesses in the administration’s deal with Tehran.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iranians carried out that part of the investigation at Parchin, where the agency suspects that explosive triggers for nuclear weapons might have been tested in the past. He insisted that the probe stands up to strict agency standards.
Republican lawmakers said the development illustrates flaws in the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Tehran by allowing the Iranians essentially to police themselves through a secret side agreement with the IAEA.
“This report appears to confirm our grave concern that the Iran-IAEA side agreements permit Tehran to self-inspect its own nuclear sites,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Rep. Peter J. Roskam of Illinois and Rep. Lee M. Zeldin of New York. “Without access to these documents it’s impossible to verify that necessary mechanisms are in place to ensure Iran will abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”
But the White House hailed the report from the United Nations as proof that its agreement with Iran is working as intended.
“It’s incredibly important that these inspections live up to the standards that are established by the international impartial nuclear experts at the IAEA,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “When it comes to the inspections that were conducted at the Parchin military facility over the weekend, the IAEA has said that these inspections were consistent with their standards.”
IAEA inspectors usually conduct the sampling of soil, air or dust from equipment, but Mr. Amano confirmed that Iranians carried out that part of the investigation at Parchin.
Diplomats say Iran insisted on the compromise as a condition for any inspection of Parchin.
Deputy IAEA Director General Tero Varjoranta said countries have been allowed to use their own nationals to conduct sampling in more than 40 instances and that the process is only a small part of a rigid regimen established by the agency to make sure there is no violation.
He said the criteria at Parchin included invasive monitoring by video and still cameras while the sampling took place, GPS tracking of the sampling process, IAEA agreement on where the samples were to be taken, review by unspecified peers of the inspection process, risk assessment and strict observance to make sure procedures were followed step by step.
“We feel fully confident that the process and the result so far are fully in line with our safeguards practices,” said Mr. Varjoranta, standing next to Mr. Amano at a Vienna news conference.
Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director general, described Iran as a particularly sensitive case. He said he knew of no other instance in which a country under investigation for suspected attempts to make nuclear weapons was permitted to use its own personnel to collect environmental samples.
Iran’s atomic energy agency spokesman, Behrouz Kalmandi, said IAEA inspectors were not physically present during the sampling. But Mr. Amano said the procedure met strict agency criteria to ensure “the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples.”
Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Roskam and Mr. Zeldin said the lack of international inspectors at the site shows why the U.S. should keep economic sanctions against Iran in place “until the president complies with the law and provides the side agreements to Congress.”
Mr. Earnest said the Parchin inspection “certainly disproves the claims of our critics who suggested that Iran would be conducting self-inspections. That obviously is not true.”
He added that “there also was some concern and some claims made by critics of the deal that the IAEA would not have access to military sites. The fact is, the director general of the IAEA was at a prominent Iranian military site over the weekend.”