By Tim Marshall.
If President Obama really wants to persuade a reluctant Congress to back the Iran nuclear deal he might want to explain what relationship his claim that ‘Inspectors will have 24/7 access’ to Iranian sites bears to reality.
On a first, second and third reading of the text there appears to be no relationship whatsoever.
Back in April he said that Iran had agreed to the most ‘robust and intrusive inspections’ ever negotiated for a nuclear programme. By July 14th that phrase had vanished but we were given the 24/7 promise.
However, nowhere in the text of the ‘Dispute Resolution Mechanism’ section of the deal do the words 24/7 appear. Instead it details a long and highly complicated procedure using language which is open to interpretation.
If the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have suspicions that the Iranians may be cheating, they have to write to them saying what it is that they suspect is going on. So they would say ‘we are concerned that activity A is happening at site B’.
Iran must then prepare a written response which can include asking for the IAEA to provide evidence of its suspicions. If the IAEA finds this response unsatisfactory they can request access to the site. Iran then has 2 to 3 weeks to respond. At the end of that period, if Iran comes back and says ‘no’ the agreement states “Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA’s concern” in a process which could take another 14 days.
If these alternative means are unsatisfactory, then, presumably after some to and froing, the matter is taken to a Joint Commission (JC) which includes China, Germany, Russia, the EU, France, the UK, the US and, Iran.
The text, which I have subbed down here says that the JC “…would have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus. After Joint Commission consideration, any participant could refer the issue to Ministers of Foreign Affairs, if it believed the compliance issue had not been resolved. Ministers would have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus “ then if there is still no agreement the issue can be considered by an Advisory Board.
This Board “should provide a non-binding opinion on the compliance issue within 15 days…. the Joint Commission would consider the opinion of the Advisory Board for no more than 5 days” If the issue still has not been resolved then it can be taken to the UN Security Council.
At this point the Security Council votes on a resolution re-imposing any sanctions on Iran which had been lifted. This is course could be vetoed by any member of the SC, however – “If the resolution described above has not been adopted within 30 days of the notification, then the provisions of the old UN Security Council resolutions would be re-imposed, unless the UN Security Council decides otherwise. “
Based on the text, it appears that if Iran was cheating, it would have up to three months to cover up any evidence of wrong doing before acceding to inspection demands in order to avoid the re-imposition of sanctions.
Ronald Reagan made the phrase ‘Trust, but verify” famous during the Cold War arms reduction negotiations with the USSR. President Obama’s version seems to be – ‘Trust’.