Commentary Magazine

Why We Won’t Know Iran Cheats

Image by © Ronald Zak/AP/Corbis

This week, the world was sent another message by Iran about its aggressive intentions even after the nuclear deal was supposed to herald a new era in which, as President Obama said, it could “get right with the world.” Defying the United Nations again, the regime fired off more ballistic missile tests. Rather than doing so in private, Tehran openly boasted about the launches. And if anyone didn’t already get the message about the likely target of any future missiles that have a range of 850 miles (enough to reach the Jewish state), the official FARS news agency noted that the projectiles had the following written on them in Hebrew: “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth.”

What was the U.S. reaction to this outrageous behavior by the president’s negotiating partners? So far, nothing. The administration did previously announce some minimal sanctions placed on individuals that helped procure the missiles, but that slap on the wrist impressed no one, least of all the ayatollahs that have long understood that Obama is a paper tiger with respect to Iran.

The missile tests are important because they provide the Iranians with a reliable delivery system once they procure their weapon after the nuclear deal expires. But, as I noted after the first such launch, the impunity the West gives them for this violation is a crucial indicator of how it will react should Tehran cheat on the nuclear deal. Which is to say that based on the collective shrug from the West, it doesn’t have much to worry about.

Of course, the administration still says it will do something if it finds out that Iran isn’t keeping its word. In Israel this week, Vice President Joe Biden said, “If in fact they break the deal, we will act.” If true, that would be good. But even if we lay aside all of our justified doubts about whether President Obama or a President Hillary Clinton would actually do anything about a report of Iran cheating, the question arises how will they know about such activity? Unfortunately, faith in such promises received a body blow this week.

On Monday, Yukio Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed something that even those of us who have been following the issue closely didn’t realize. As the AP reported, he said that a resolution passed by the IAEA Board of Directors on December 15, 2015 laid down a new rule about the agency’s activity. Rather than publicly issue regular reports about all Iranian nuclear activity as it has been doing for the past several years, that kind of reporting will now cease.

As Fred Fleitz of the Center for Security Policy writes in National Review, from now on, the IAEA will monitor whether the terms of the deal are being strictly followed. But it will stop monitoring other aspects of the nuclear question including those related to the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program. This is a crucial aspect of the discussion about Iran’s activity and about which important questions about its past research are still very much unresolved as the mystery about building and missing materials at the Parchin site demonstrated. But as far as the IAEA is concerned, the file is now closed. Their reports will also omit details about any compliance issues including how much enriched uranium is or is not shipped out of the country, centrifuge development and whether what remains can be easily converted to use for weapons.

In other words, although the West is largely relying on the IAEA to ensure that the deal is being kept by Iran, the UN agency will now largely ignore some of the most important elements of compliance.

This is one more reason why it was an outrage that some of the side deals between the IAEA and Iran associated with the nuclear deal were not presented to Congress before it voted on the agreement. Though the administration promised rigorous compliance procedures, Iran’s insistence on vague IAEA reports gives the lie to that pledge as well as to the sort of boasts Biden was spouting in Israel this week.

The facts are clear. If the IAEA is not reporting everything that is going on with respect to the regime’s nuclear activity and its military research then any talk of a rigorous inspection regime that can ensure that Iran can’t cheat is less than hot air. It is a lie.

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