In less than a month, Congress will vote on the Iran nuclear deal. It’s a terrible deal, in all its sanctions-melting, cash-bestowing, arms-and-missile-embargo-lifting, nuclear-enrichment-approving and self-sunsetting capitulation to Iran.
It’s even worse for having been rushed by the Obama administration to the United Nations Security Council for approval on July 20th, just six days after it was announced, and one day after the Obama administration officially transmitted a copy to Congress. And it’s worse still for relying on secret side deals between Iran and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency to handle inspections pertaining to Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons — the “possible military dimensions.”
And still it gets worse, the latest bombshell being the news this past week from the Associated Press that according to leaked information on one of these secret side deals, the IAEA has agreed to let Iran carry out its own sampling for inspections of its past nuclear weapons work at the Parchin military site. As an AP story sums it up, the agreement “will let the Iranians themselves look for signs of the very activity they deny — past work on nuclear weapons.”
There’s now a kerfuffle over whether the leaked document reproduced by the AP is the real McCoy, and even if it is, whether this arrangement is as appalling as it sounds (I’d say yes), or whether, as the IAEA contends, letting Iran do its own sampling is reasonable.
But here’s one bottom line that’s beyond dispute: Despite earlier promises to share the full deal with Congress, the Obama administration has been defending these secret side deals as entirely reasonable and reliable: nothing to see here, it’s all yesterday’s news, the IAEA will take care of things, just move along.
Not that Obama administration officials believe Iran’s claims to have done no work on nuclear weapons. This June, Secretary of State John Kerry told the press, “We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in.” But Kerry mentioned this in the course of arguing that there was no need to be “fixated” on obtaining an accounting from Iran. Nor did he provide any specifics of that “absolute knowledge.”
Actually, there are very good reasons for being fixated on a full and transparent accounting. These reasons go well beyond the technical needs of nuclear inspectors, who must know the past in order to establish a baseline.
A big question, which has not figured in the debate over these secret side deals — though it certainly should — is whether Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons was done in cahoots with any other countries. For instance, the rogue nuclear-proliferating tyranny of North Korea.
If Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration know of any such nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran, they have not officially shared this information with the public. Any such confirmation would be, in itself, a blockbuster piece of news — raising huge questions about Iran’s potential use of North Korea’s lively nuclear production and test facilities as a back shop for the Iranian nuclear weapons program that under this deal Tehran is supposed to be giving up.
There have been numerous reports in the media, however, about nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran — some quite recent, others going back many years. One of the most intriguing was published in 2003 by the Los Angeles Times, product of an in-depth, extensively sourced investigation by veteran reporter Douglas Frantz, in an article headlined “Iran Closes In on Ability to Build a Nuclear Bomb.” In this article, Frantz reported (boldface mine):
North Korean military scientists recently were monitored entering Iranian nuclear facilities. They are assisting in the design of a nuclear warhead, according to people inside Iran and foreign intelligence officials. So many North Koreans are working on nuclear and missile projects in Iran that a resort on the Caspian coast is set aside for their exclusive use.
As it happens, Frantz now works for Kerry. As I reported in more detail in a recent column (“The Iran-North Korea Axis of Atomic Weapons?”), Frantz was hired in 2009 by then-Senator Kerry to serve as deputy chief of staff and chief investigator of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 2013, when Kerry moved on to the State Department, Frantz was hired to work at State as assistant secretary for public affairs — a position in which he advocates the virtues of a free flow of information, but according to State it would be inappropriate for him to give interviews to the press on his reporting, during his career as a journalist, of North Korea helping Iran with the design of nuclear warheads.
So, does the Obama administration, with its secret trove of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear weapons work, possess any information that these “possible military dimensions” included help from North Korea? For that matter, did Iran get help from any other countries? We know that Iran was part of Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear network. May we now learn more about how far that went? What about the procurement networks running through some of the countries that partnered with the U.S. in negotiating this Iran nuclear deal, and will be directly involved in overseeing Iran’s compliance? Russia? China?
If Iran had partners in its work on warheads, that would be information highly relevant to the debate over this nuclear deal. Perhaps, despite the press reports, there really is nothing to see there. But if, as Frantz and others have reported, Iran did get outside help, it’s hard to imagine a better way to bury the evidence than with secret side deals, delegated to the IAEA, with the proviso — if you credit the AP’s reporting — that inspections will be a highly constrained process in which Iran effectively inspects itself.
Surely Congress ought to be demanding of the Obama administration not only full disclosure of any side deals, but full disclosure of what the Obama administration might already know about whatever Iran did — including whether, from North Korea or anyplace else, Iran received any help.