Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing today on the difficulties in verifying the proposed Iran nuclear deal.
In his opening statement, Royce nailed the reasons why it’s folly to enter into an agreement without the world community fully prepared to punish Iran if it cheats.
Now, Iran’s long history of clandestine activity and intransigence prevents the U.S. from holding any trust whatsoever in the clerics who run Iran. Indeed, deception has been a cornerstone of their nuclear program since its inception. So when it comes to negotiating and inspections regime over the next two months, the U.S. must gain ground, not retreat, keep a key piece of verification which includes Iran coming clean on its past bomb work. We recall that the IAEA asked those 12 questions about their testing. They got an answer back of half of the first question and none of the others were were responded to.
That still has not happened despite long-overdue commitments on the part of Iran to international inspectors. The IAEA remains concerned about about signs of Iran’s military related activities, including designing a nuclear payload for a missile, a new killer weapon, an ICBM missile. Iran hasn’t even begun to address these concerns and last fall 350 members wrote to the secretary of state expressing deep concerns about this lack of cooperation. Yet the framework agreement is vague on this critical verification step. Intrusive inspections are even more critical when you consider a recent Department of Defense study. It points out that the U.S. capabilities to locate undeclared nuclear facilities or convert nuclear programs are either —in the words of the Department of Defense study —inadequate or more often do not exist.
And critically, that study also reminds us that verification is principally the political judgment in the words of the study to which monitoring and other means contribute. The IAEA and its inspectors will play an essential role in monitoring Iran but it will ultimately be up to the administration and its negotiating partners, which includes Russia and China, likely acting through the UN Security Council or another international body to decide whether Iran is complying with its commitments, and this is another weak link.
If Iran is caught cheating, will this or the next administration be prepared to call them out? I’m not confident. Why? Because during the interim negotiations when Iran was caught testing advanced supersonic centrifuge, it faced no consequences. As one witness will testify, international inspectors can be no tougher than the countries that back them. The history of arms control inspections is that they are easy for political leaders to tout as a solution, but are difficult to fully implement. What looks good on the chalkboard often fails in the real world. (Emphasis mine)
Couple that with the propensity of the IAEA to give the subjects of their inspections the benefit of the doubt when it comes to violations and you can immediately see the problem. Iran’s cheating must be so clear-cut, so obvious that no leader — including and especially President Obama — can spin their way out of re-imposing sanctions.
But, in the “real world” as Royce points out, things are rarely black and white. Even if the IAEA is able to confirm Iranian cheating — by no means a certainty given statements from Tehran regarding access to all their nuclear sites — the government will no doubt throw up a lot of smoke, trying their best to give western leaders the opportunity to ignore the transgressions and continue their work toward a bomb.
So in this case, it’s not only a question of trusting the Iranians. It’s also a matter of trusting western leaders to take a firm stand against Iranian cheating and reimpose sanctions if necessary. At this point, and with President Obama as desperate for a deal as he apparently is, trust is a commodity in short supply.