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Former IAEA Deputy Director: Iran Inspection Regime ‘Less Intrusive’ Since 2015 Nuclear Deal

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An IAEA inspector at a Iranian nuclear facility near Isfahan. Photo: IAEA.

A former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned this week that data released by the organization showing an increase in inspections at Iran’s nuclear facilities conveys a greater pattern of cooperation on the Tehran regime’s part than is actually the case.

“A closer examination of the new data suggests there may be aspects of the inspection program that have become less comprehensive and less intrusive since the implementation of the JCPOA (the technical name for the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015,” Dr. Olli Heinonen wrote in a briefing for Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank.

Heinonen — a Finnish national who served in variety of high-ranking positions during a three-decade career at the IAEA — based his criticisms on the agency’s claim that international inspections have doubled since the JCPOA was implemented in 2016.

The issue of nuclear site inspections is of key importance in terms of certifying that Iran is abiding by the terms of the JCPOA. Over the last month, US officials including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, have expressed concern that the IAEA’s inspection regime was not intrusive enough, as the Trump administration weighs whether to certify Iranian compliance with the deal on October 15 — as it is legally required to do every 100 days.

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Heinonen argued that a true picture of the IAEA’s insight into Iran’s nuclear activities could not be gleaned simply from the number of inspections. “We should look at the total number of work days on the ground that inspectors spent during visits to various sites and facilities,” he wrote.

“Here, the statistics reveal a different picture,” Heinonen observed. In 2015, IAEA inspectors spent 2,170 work days in Iran. In 2016, once the JCPOA was implemented, the number fell to 1,042.

Heinonen pointed out that IAEA inspectors also spend hundreds of work days annually at nuclear facilities in Canada and Japan — both counties whose civilian nuclear programs are fully certified, unlike Iran’s. He emphasized as well that the 25 snap inspections of Iranian facilities carried out since the JCPOA’s implementation — a figure heralded by supporters of the agreement as evidence of Iranian transparency — was only one higher than in Japan, where 24 snap inspections occurred in 2016.

Moreover, Heinonen said, “the IAEA carries out additional monitoring tasks in Iran, which go beyond normal safeguards verification activities and are thus not reflected in the statistics.”

“These tasks include monitoring the production of centrifuge rotors, uranium ore concentrate, and heavy water, as well as the use of large hot cells (radiation containment chambers),” Heinonen wrote.

Heinonen’s criticism came as some former US officials from President Barack Obama’s administration publicly expressed reservations about the Iran nuclear deal in an interviews with Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake.

Bob Einhorn — an ex-State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control –said, that “[E]veryone recognizes that the deal is not ideal. I think President Obama would say the deal is not ideal.”

He added: “There have been all kinds of ideas for how it can be strengthened. Strong supporters of the deal would acknowledge that. Let’s think of a strategy for how some of its shortcomings can be remedied.”

Colin Kahl — who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser in Obama’s second term — agreed that the deal’s flaws needed to be examined, but added, “There is no need to force a crisis over it at this very moment — as Trump and some deal opponents seem inclined to do — given that elements of the JCPOA don’t begin to sunset until 2026-2031.”

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