Former IAEA Inspector: Agreement Effectively Ends Iranian Breakout Capacity
Robert Kelley says the Iranians compromised on everything, and the IAEA’s push for sweeping site access is quite a big demand against a country that hasn’t lost a war
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
The deal with Iran and what could be called the E3 plus three, EU3 plus three, or the P5+1, as it’s more commonly known at any rate, Germany, the UK, France, the United States, Russia, China, and Iran to limit what they say is the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Of course, Iran has never admitted to a nuclear weapons program. And in fact, there’s no evidence that there’s a nuclear weapons program, including evidence that was generated by the American intelligence agencies. Nobody keep reminding us of that except perhaps on the Real News.
I guess the real fight that’s been taking place over in these negotiations is whether Iran can develop some kind of breakout capacity that might lead to a bomb, as even though they continue to say they had no such intent.
At any rate, the deal has been lauded as something that could prevent the next world war. On the other side of the rhetoric what’s being said is that it might give rise to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and give rise to the annihilation of Israel. That, of course, is coming from Prime Minister Netanyahu.
At any rate, joining us now to talk about some of the technical, scientific aspects of this story is Robert Kelley. He’s a former nuclear weapons analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He’s a former director of analysis at the IAEA, that’s the International Atomic Energy Agency. Also an associate research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Thank you very much for joining us, Robert.
ROBERT KELLEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, IAEA: Good evening, Paul.
JAY: So if I can quickly characterize the principal objections to the deal that are coming from Netanyahu in Israel, from various Republicans. I saw one Republican who’s the chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee he basically called it a win-win for Iran, meaning that Iran gets to keep most of its infrastructure and at the end of the ten-year life of this deal gets to have a very fast breakout towards a weapon, if that’s what they want. But they also get all the sanctions dropped now, which enhances Iran’s regional powers and so on.
But the fundamental critique is this really doesn’t slow down the Iranian weapons program, if there actually was one. So what’s your take?
KELLEY: Well, I couldn’t disagree more with the person you mention. There doesn’t seem to be an Iranian nuclear weapons program, so what people are trying to do is limit Iran’s production of nuclear materials. This agreement is where Iran has basically rolled over, given up their enrichment program lock, stock and barrel, except for a token number of machines of [inaud.] design, and have agreed to let that be inspected on a regular basis.
We say this is going to run for ten years. We’ll be on our third presidential election by then. A lot of things will have changed. So I don’t see that that ten years is really significant. Some of the senators who signed the letter to the Ayatollah will be on their second reelection campaign. So we’re talking a long ways in the future here, particularly in the world of politics.
In addition, Iran has completely given up any plutonium program that they might have had. So this is a really, a good deal. It’s win-win for the United States, it’s win-win for the E3+3.
JAY: I’m a little surprised that Iran seems to have agreed to a limitation on conventional weapons in terms of the dropping of sanctions on conventional weapons. I think what, it’s five years for a certain type of conventional weapons, eight years for missiles. Iran agreed to this, which seems–I mean, the conventional weapons and missiles don’t have anything to do with the nuclear program, do they?
KELLEY: No, this was kind of dropped in at the last minute as a bit of a spoiler. But you have to remember that those restrictions on conventional arms exports and imports are the subject of a UN Security Council resolution. And Iran was hoping to get those sanctions dropped along with other sanctions in this business.
So I think Iran may be the one that is guilty of having dropped that in at the last minute as a, take these sanctions off, please. And that bothered a lot of people. What bothers me more is that it’s somehow tied to IAEA’s acceptance of what Iran is doing. It’s either five years or when IAEA says it’s okay. And IAEA’s not in the conventional weapons business.
JAY: One of the other objections that’s being raised is that if you leave Iran with this much nuclear infrastructure it opens the door to sort of secret installations that the verification process couldn’t discover. And that you have–if they don’t completely dismantle everything to do with their nuclear program there’s no other way to get rid of these secret, supposedly secret, installations.
KELLEY: Well actually, I think that’s a bit nonsensical, too. This inspection regime that’s being generated is one of the most severe that’s ever come up except for Iraq, and Iraq lost a war. So Iraq was forced to put up with things.
But in this inspection regime they’re going to be looking at mining, they’re going to be looking at all the milling processes. They’re going to be looking at the non-nuclear facilities. And if you have a separate parallel program going, it’s a very good chance that there’ll be some leakage across the board between secret and non-secret. So I think having what could be–there were 1,600 inspections last year. 16-person [days]. Having even more people in the country looking at everything, very good chance of tripping over things in that case.
So this is–access to authoritarian regimes is one of the reason the CIA fails. They can’t get their people in there. In this case, going to have inspectors crawling all over the place. It’s a really good deal.
JAY: So do you see any problems with it? Do you see anything that could be, as Netanyahu says, a threat to their existence?
KELLEY: To me, Netanyahu has predicted that Iran will have a bomb next year since the middle-’90s. His credibility is shot. He’s just crying wolf all the time, and maybe someday he’ll be right.
But I don’t see that on the nuclear materials side there’s a problem. IAEA is very, very good when it comes to monitoring enrichment, stockpiles of material, shipments of material, and making measurements of the material. That’s what they do for a living and they do that very well, and they’re going to be crawling all over the country. The two main enrichment facilities, Fordow and Qom, are being inspected by two people at each facility every day. It’s actually too much. It’s not reasonable to do that. But you really can’t do more than that.
So I think IAEA’s looking at the nuclear materials [thing], is a good deal. When it comes to looking at other things like the supposed weaponization, then I get very concerned because the IAEA is doing a really poor job in that area. They’re failing constantly, and not just in Iran. So they ought to be invited to leave that field as soon as possible. It’s not in their mandate. They’re supposed to be [verifying] nuclear materials. Counting drums or uranium, measuring fuel rods. They [don’t] explosives and detonators and missiles, and things like that.
JAY: One of the other critiques is the sunset clause, that there just shouldn’t have been a sunset clause, in a sense it should be up to the IAEA when to stop these sorts of inspections, and the various verification processes. And that there just shouldn’t be any of this ten-year clause at all. And that this allows Iran just to play for time and get all the sanctions lifted. And then ten years from now, which according to Netanyahu is not very far away.
KELLEY: Well, it is far away. It’s three presidential elections away. And a lot of things change in that time, and they will change. I don’t think it’s up to the world to say to Iran forever and ever, you cannot import materials, you cannot import the conventional arms. Isn’t it a little two-faced for the biggest arms exporter in the world telling Iran what they can do in arms exports and imports? It’s not reasonable.
So I think if you look at the risk being posed by Iran in ten years, it’s just not that high. Iran is a relatively developed country if you look at the scale of countries around the world. They’ve accomplished a lot in the nuclear industry and we can’t take it away.
JAY: One of the other things that’s always been a very thorny issue in these negotiations is the IAEA wanting to get to many different sites, many which the Iranians say have nothing to do with nuclear weapons, may have more to do with conventional weapons. What’s your take on access to sites the IAEA wants?
KELLEY: You have to realize it’s even broader than what the press is saying. It’s access to universities, it’s access to mosques, it’s access to ministries and access to military factories. In Iraq we even had access to Saddam’s palaces as an [inaud.] So it’s going anywhere, anytime, and that is quite a big demand against a country that hasn’t lost a war, which Iraq had done. So IAEA’s going to have to figure out if they’re competent to go to those places and ask the right questions, and how long their list is going to be. Because I think the Iranians are going to get very impatient if it looks like they’re going fishing.
IAEA has accused Iran in writing in a big document they published in 2011 of doing all kinds of dastardly things. It’s a very badly-written document, it’s filled with innuendo, it’s filled with mistakes and falsehoods. And now Amano is kind of stuck, and he says in his road map he’s going to go and resolve all the issues in that document.
At some point IAEA has to admit that they’ve already asked Iran over and over again, what about certain activities. And Iran has said very clearly, we didn’t do the things that you say we did. Those are forgeries or misinformation. When is the IAEA going to decide that they may have to accept those answers, because they just might be true?
In other cases, they need to go to Parchin in [marevan]. [Marevan] is very important because it is a place where they did major, high-explosive experience that they’ve accused Iran of. They have to go there, and then they have to go to Parchin to see if all the nonsense that’s been said about that site is true.
So they do have places that they want to go. Parchin is called out specifically in Amano’s roadmap [inaud.] and [marevan] should have been as well.
JAY: And Iran has agreed to this.
KELLEY: In the roadmap that–yes. That [Zarif] and Amano put out–it may not be Zarif, I apologize if apologize if I’m wrong there, put out Parchin’s supposed to be governed by a separate [agreement]. And that right there tells you that there’s this hedging going on, this parsing of words, because in the accusatory report, [marevan] was the place where the really bad stuff supposedly took place and the IAEA’s pretending that they didn’t say that and saying well, I want to go someplace else. I think Iran will get tired of fishing expeditions, and I don’t blame them.
One more thing I think that the Congress will find concerning, now that there’s this business of a commission that will educate if IAEA wants to go someplace, and they have 15 days I think to talk about it, and then ten more days to resolve it. People are saying, well, Iran’s going to hide everything in that time. That’s a little bit silly. If they’re looking for a uranium mine or an enrichment plant or a reactor, and they have evidence that it’s there, it’s not going anywhere in 25 days. They can talk for 25 days about what roads they’re going to drive in on and what pictures they can take. The reactor will still be there if it exists. So 25 days is actually kind of a red herring in all of this.
JAY: All right. So just to sum up, far from being a win-win for Iran, you think this actually is Iran rolling over.
KELLEY: Yes. They gave up plutonium absolutely, they’ve cut their uranium back to a token program, and they’ve cooperated now for 18 months on inspections, allowing something like 1,600 inspections a year. 1,600 days have been inspectors in Iran last year. And people realize that’s pretty intrusive.
JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Robert.
KELLEY: Good talking to you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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