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Former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley says Israel’s criticism of agreement is unwarranted as it does not observe the non-proliferation treaty itself

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And we’re back with part two of our interview with Robert Kelley. We’re discussing the historic nuclear dear between Iran and the West.

And now joining us is Robert Kelley. He’s a nuclear engineer who has worked in the U.S. nuclear complex for more than 30 years. He assisted the IAEA as the director in the Iraqi Action Team.

Good to see you again, Bob.


DESVARIEUX: So, Bob, you’ve been on the program before and we’ve talked about this, about the deal, specifically. And I remember asking you about what you thought a comprehensive deal should look like if you were at the negotiating table. You mentioned the example of Switzerland and how they published a document about their nuclear weapons program and how the Iranians should do the same. Now that we actually have a deal, how does this deal measure up, in your opinion?

KELLEY: I think it’s a good deal. It’s a reversible deal. It gives everybody a chance to save face, because the Iranians particularly needed to save face. They just couldn’t give up much more. And the U.S. has demanded some things that are not that difficult for Iran to go with. So it’s good in that regard.

I’m on the record for many years as saying I think that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Clearly they had one back in the late 1980s. I don’t [incompr.] question about that. The thing is, it probably ended around 2003. And if they were to just come clean and say this is what we did, they’d be in exactly the same position as Switzerland. So they shouldn’t find it that difficult to say, hey, you know, there was something we did years ago, and we’d like to get off our chests.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. I’m going to present the counterargument that we’re hearing a lot over here in the U.S., specifically from the right. They’re saying that this deal basically shows that the U.S. has lost its sole leverage against the Iranians by lifting these economic sanctions, and the deal did not provide substantive rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear development. Do you agree with this? Do you see this as a way of Iran buying time, as this narrative goes, to finally develop a nuclear weapon?

KELLEY: Well, I think the clearest part of this agreement, as we see in the White House press statement, is the end of all the activities at Arak, everything–no fuel being supplied, no heavy water, no further work on the facility. This is a really big concession on the part of Iran. They’ve essentially said, we’re stopping this reactor [inaud.] face and say it’s a six-month halt. In those six months, we’re going to find out if anything really changes and if both sides are remaining true to what they’ve agreed to. That’s a huge concession. I just don’t see why anybody can look at that and say, that’s a big rollback, that’s an important rollback, let’s see if they stay with it. Well, six months from now, if they haven’t done any more on that reactor, that’s a big deal.

Then the uranium stuff is also impressive–not as impressive. [incompr.] it’s reversible. If Iran doesn’t really follow through, the U.S. can reverse, and vice versa.

DESVARIEUX: One player that isn’t really impressed with this deal, of course, is Israel. And you have the prime minister, Netanyahu, saying that the world is a more dangerous place. Is he right?

KELLEY: Well, I think he’s not right, because he’s been the one who’s been complaining about Arak and saying that Arak is a threat to Israel. And now we’ve seen the P5+1 has stopped Arak cold in its tracks.

You know, Netanyahu should come to the table. He could’ve been there. But he prefers to stay isolated. He prefers to not come clean about what Israel has done in the [past]. That’s absolutely their right. They don’t have to sign the NPT. They don’t have to say they have [inaud.] But if they don’t want to participate in what the world is doing [inaud.] proliferation, they want to be one of the three holdouts, then they don’t have much reason to be complaining about people who are doing the hard work, making the compromises, and trying to make the system work.

DESVARIEUX: We should mention that the weaponization issue was not on the negotiating table this time around. What’s the next major hurdle in your opinion, Bob, for a final agreement?

KELLEY: Well, weaponization shouldn’t be on the table. It’s none of the IAEA’s direct business, particularly when they ask to go places that there’s no real evidence there’s any weaponization going on. So the fact that that wasn’t on the table, it’s mentioned briefly in the press release. It’s hard to tell how much they really are serious about it. But the fact that the IAEA was not part of the negotiations at all shows that it’s going to be returned to its proper place, which is as a nuclear [inaud.] a technical function, not a policy function. The IAEA, I think, is going to stop making unreasonable demands and start doing what it does extremely well, which is monitor nuclear materials.

DESVARIEUX: And moving forward, how can Iran be more transparent?

KELLEY: Well, something I was disappointed not to see in this agreement was Iran didn’t agree to bring the additional protocol with the IAEA into force. That’s an agreement that gives the IAEA more powers. And most countries in the world have agreed to do it. Iran signed that agreement years ago, but hasn’t brought it into force, because they didn’t feel they were getting the concessions they needed. The fact that it wasn’t mentioned in this agreement as being one of the outcomes was a little disappointing to me, and it suggested maybe the IAEA and Iran still haven’t ironed out some of their differences. It would be nice [inaud.] as civilly as the P5+1 and Iran have been [incompr.]

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Robert Kelley, always a pleasure having you on.

KELLEY: Nice to see you.

DESVARIEUX: And if you want to keep following this story and getting the latest information, you can follow us on Twitter or make a donation. If you want us to keep making The Real News that we make here in Baltimore and all over the world, we need your help.

Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Robert Kelley is a licensed nuclear engineer who has worked on many aspects of nuclear weapons and later on nuclear nonproliferation. His personal experiences include weapons simulation testing, plutonium metallurgy, isotope separation and emergency response. These experiences were extremely useful in carrying out intelligence analyses of foreign countries and lead to field experience as a chief inspector in Iraq nuclear weapons inspections and elsewhere. He is currently affiliated with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden and several other nonproliferation organizations.