Commentary Magazine


Topic: nuclear inspections

Obama’s Parchin Nuclear Wake-Up Call

Sunday night, the residents of Tehran got a light show when an explosion at a military complex east of the city shook the Iranian capital. According to the New York Times, an orange flash lit up the city, but officials denied that the incident occurred at Parchin–though how exactly an “ordinary fire” would create such a display was left unsaid. But whatever it was that happened at the place where Iran has been conducting military nuclear research, the incident is a reminder that despite the all-out push for détente with the Islamist regime being conducted by the Obama administration, its nuclear program presents a clear and present danger to the world.

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Sunday night, the residents of Tehran got a light show when an explosion at a military complex east of the city shook the Iranian capital. According to the New York Times, an orange flash lit up the city, but officials denied that the incident occurred at Parchin–though how exactly an “ordinary fire” would create such a display was left unsaid. But whatever it was that happened at the place where Iran has been conducting military nuclear research, the incident is a reminder that despite the all-out push for détente with the Islamist regime being conducted by the Obama administration, its nuclear program presents a clear and present danger to the world.

Parchin is famous because it is not just another of Iran’s many nuclear facilities. What makes it special is the fact that the regime has consistently denied inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to it. Western and Israeli intelligence agencies as well as the UN monitoring group believe Parchin is where Iran has conducted high-explosive experiments related to nuclear-weapons research. In other words, Parchin is the locus of some of the world’s worst fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as of its government’s most egregious lies and deceptions of the international community.

Speculation about the cause of the incident is inevitable. Was it American or Israeli sabotage? From 2010 to 2012, there were a number of suspicious incidents at Iranian nuclear facilities, computer viruses aimed at knocking out their infrastructure, as well as assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. But in the last year as the Obama administration shifted away from sanctions and attempts to stop Iran to a campaign of appeasement, we’ve heard very little about any action to forestall their nuclear progress. The explosion could have been a Western covert operation aimed at pressuring the Iranians to be more reasonable in the ongoing nuclear talks or it could be an Israeli effort to knock out Iranian capabilities or to refocus U.S. attention on the threat.

But it could just as easily be another “work accident,” such as many other occurrences that illustrated the dangerous nature of the work being conducted at Parchin.

The truth is we don’t yet know the truth about what happened in Parchin. But the precipitate cause of the explosion is not as important as what the facility represents and why the West should not be blindly assuming that everything Iran says about its program is the truth.

Until UN inspectors have gone over every inch of the place without allowing the Iranians to try to clean up and erase all evidence of their nuclear research, as they have repeatedly tried to do, we simply don’t know how close Tehran is to realizing their nuclear goal. But while the interim deal signed by the West with Iran last year paid lip service to the principle of transparency, the fact that the IAEA still hasn’t gotten into Parchin and is not even negotiating about Tehran’s ballistic missile program and other aspects of the threat undermines confidence in a process that is already based more on Western hopes than Iranian reality.

This is important because the current compromise proposals on the table in the Iran talks seem to be based more on trust than on verification. The idea that Iran could be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges for producing nuclear fuel for weapons on condition that the pipes were disconnected between them is farcical on its face. But even if we thought that this made a smidgeon of sense (and the idea that such a provision was a serious obstacle to an Iranian nuclear breakout is ludicrous even by the debased standards of Obama administration foreign policy) it would have to be based on a foundation of rigorous and intrusive surprise inspections that the Iranians have never allowed at any crucial site.

Whether Parchin is being sabotaged—a prospect that would renew one’s faith in the smarts of whichever government, be it American or Israeli, that sponsored the attack—or has suffered an accident unrelated to international concerns, the IAEA must be allowed in immediately.

While there is little reason to believe that any nuclear deal would be observed by Tehran, until the inspectors get in there and other facilities, President Obama is doing nothing more than gambling the future of the world on Iranian promises. The Parchin explosion is a reminder of how dangerous such a premise would be.

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Inspections? Kerry’s False Iran Promises

When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the deal he signed with Iran on November 24, he was particularly exasperated with the arguments that asserted that Iran would cheat on its promises to “hit the pause button” on its nuclear program. He said the deal was not only a vital first step in the administration’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that any fears about Tehran deceiving the West were absurd. Kerry promised its facilities would be subjected to rigorous inspections that exceeded anything that had hitherto been imposed on the country. After nearly two months of further wrangling, that interim accord was finalized yesterday and Iran is now to enjoy substantial sanctions relief during a six-month negotiating period that will give it plenty of opportunities to continue its stalling tactics. But amid the orgy of self-congratulation from the administration on its successful effort to avoid taking tougher action against the nuclear threat, we are also learning more about the inspections Kerry bragged about, and these details give the lie to his assurances.

As the New York Times reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with carrying out the inspections, is glad that the deal will expand its ability to monitor some of Iran’s facilities. But, like the deal itself, the inspections regime turns out to be nothing more than what one nuclear inspector described to the Times as “an appetizer.” While the inspectors will be able to look in on the centrifuges that continue to enrich uranium–a “right” tacitly acknowledged by the West in the deal–it says nothing about the regime’s military research that is necessary for it to complete a bomb. Without such inspections, the notion that the West has any real idea about how close the Iranians are to a bomb is a joke. Far from making it harder for them to achieve their nuclear ambition, the interim accord is, like previous negotiations, enabling the Iranians to go on pursuing it.

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When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the deal he signed with Iran on November 24, he was particularly exasperated with the arguments that asserted that Iran would cheat on its promises to “hit the pause button” on its nuclear program. He said the deal was not only a vital first step in the administration’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but that any fears about Tehran deceiving the West were absurd. Kerry promised its facilities would be subjected to rigorous inspections that exceeded anything that had hitherto been imposed on the country. After nearly two months of further wrangling, that interim accord was finalized yesterday and Iran is now to enjoy substantial sanctions relief during a six-month negotiating period that will give it plenty of opportunities to continue its stalling tactics. But amid the orgy of self-congratulation from the administration on its successful effort to avoid taking tougher action against the nuclear threat, we are also learning more about the inspections Kerry bragged about, and these details give the lie to his assurances.

As the New York Times reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with carrying out the inspections, is glad that the deal will expand its ability to monitor some of Iran’s facilities. But, like the deal itself, the inspections regime turns out to be nothing more than what one nuclear inspector described to the Times as “an appetizer.” While the inspectors will be able to look in on the centrifuges that continue to enrich uranium–a “right” tacitly acknowledged by the West in the deal–it says nothing about the regime’s military research that is necessary for it to complete a bomb. Without such inspections, the notion that the West has any real idea about how close the Iranians are to a bomb is a joke. Far from making it harder for them to achieve their nuclear ambition, the interim accord is, like previous negotiations, enabling the Iranians to go on pursuing it.

The Geneva deal does allow the IAEA to make daily visits to Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, an increase over what had previously been allowed. That will permit the West to see if the regime is exceeding the level of enrichment it has been permitted. But even if Iran keeps its word and doesn’t enrich above a level of five percent, all that will achieve is a delay in the period needed for a “breakout” that would get them a bomb. The low-level enriched uranium they are now producing as well as the stockpile they have already acquired can always be converted to weapons-grade material.

But Kerry and other Western leaders already know this. What they and the IAEA don’t know is how far the Iranian bomb research has progressed, and they can only learn this by the kind of inspections that the interim deal won’t provide. As the Times reports:

The agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – meant to buy time for talks on a final settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute – only vaguely refers to the IAEA’s investigation.

It does not, for example, say anything about the U.N. agency’s repeated requests to visit the Parchin military base.

The IAEA suspects that Iran has carried out explosives tests relevant for nuclear bomb development at the facility southeast of Tehran, possibly a decade ago. Iran denies this and has so far refused to open it up for the inspectors.

The watchdog also wants to see other locations, interview officials and study relevant documents for its inquiry into what it calls the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program, known under the acronym PMD.

In other words, Kerry and the rest of the P5+1 group about to resume their diplomatic dance with the Iranians have done nothing to effectively curb research on a bomb even as their enrichment deal does just as little to stop Tehran from stockpiling more nuclear fuel.

The sanctions relief the Iranians are getting during the six-month interim period that, thanks to the delay, actually became an eight-month respite are by no means trivial. While much of the coverage of this aspect of the deal spoke only of the release of frozen assets by the West in the amount of a few billion dollars, the U.S. is also relaxing its efforts to curb Iran’s sale of oil to its remaining customers, a lucrative trade that continues to keep the despotic regime fiscally solvent. The European Union also is suspending some of its sanctions on oil and other exports. While the bulk of the sanctions remain in place, now that the restrictions are starting to unravel there is little likelihood that they can be re-imposed in an atmosphere in which the administration seems bent on pursuing détente with Iran rather than pressure.

Kerry will get the time he wanted to negotiate another nuclear deal with Iran, and thanks to the president’s veto threats and the machinations of Majority Leader Harry Reid that Seth wrote about here earlier, there seems little chance that Congress will be able to heighten the pressure with new sanctions that would not go into effect until after diplomacy fails. But given the lack of inspections on Parchin as well as the Iranians’ track record in pulling the rug over the eyes of credulous Westerners like Kerry, that failure is only a matter of time.

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