Myths and Realities: The Role the Additional Protocol Can Play in Iran

By Jonah Aboni

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

IAEA inspectors visit an Iranian nuclear facility. Photo credit: jcpa

The negotiations by the United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) to prevent a nuclear –armed Iran have advanced progressively toward a comprehensive deal. Hopefully an agreement will be reached by November 24 to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

As diplomatic efforts begin to crescendo, positive gains so far have still not convinced critics who are opposed to diplomatic negotiations with Iran that a deal is in the best interest of the United States. Until the November 24 deadline, the Arms Control Association will publish a weekly post debunking some of the most commonly held “myths” about Iran’s nuclear program and what a comprehensive agreement will seek to achieve.

Myth: A comprehensive deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons using a covert program.  

Some critics of an Iranian nuclear deal remain adamant that Iran could pursue covert nuclear activities under a comprehensive nuclear agreement. They argue that such covert operations could enable Iran to proceed with a nuclear weapons program despite a comprehensive agreement.

But in reality, a good deal will put in place measures that make it more difficult for Iran to pursue covert facilities and more likely that any covert activities will be quickly detected.

While a covert program is a concern given Iran’s past nuclear activities, and the critic’s arguments may sound plausible, they have failed or neglected to apprise themselves of all the facts. In addition to a number of measures that have already been adopted to guard against possible convert operations by Iran, the comprehensive deal will seek to put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already has in place a safeguards agreement with Iran, which enables it to monitor some Iranian facilities, including enrichment facilities. Additional monitoring by the IAEA under a comprehensive deal will make it much more difficult for Teheran to develop covert nuclear facilities without being quickly discovered.

To tighten the measures to ensure effective monitoring and absolute compliance, the additional protocol will be put in place as part of the comprehensive deal. Iran and the P5+1 agreed in the Nov. 24, 2013 interim agreement that the additional protocol will be part of the final agreement. The additional protocol will grant the IAEA the authority beyond the monitoring and verification measures of the safeguards agreement. Specifically, it gives the IAEA expanded right of access to information and sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will have regular access to Iran’s entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran’s uranium mines, centrifuge production facilities, and heavy-water production plant. This will make it more difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program if the IAEA is tracking inventory.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for clandestine activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out inspections in any facility with nuclear material. It also enables the agency to visit the facilities at short notice, making it more difficult to cover-up any activities intended to divert materials or that are inconsistent with a facilities’ stated purposes.

When in place, these monitoring and verification mechanisms will give a more holistic picture of Iran’s nuclear activities and allow for early detection of, or deviation from, peaceful activities. The expansion that is given to the IAEA under the additional protocol will ensure that Tehran is disincentivized from pursuing covert activities. And the ability to discover any clandestine activities quickly will enable the international community to respond quickly.

The argument of the critics is therefore unsupported by facts. Intrusive monitoring and verification in a comprehensive deal will help ensure that Iran does not pursue clandestine activities.

Before the interim deal, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2013, that “…Iran could not divert safeguarded materials and produce a weapon worth of WGU [Weapons grade uranium] before this activity is discovered.”

The additional monitoring under a comprehensive deal will make undetected diversion even more difficult and improbable.

The measures that will be put in place to uncover any possible covert operations should be concrete enough to dispel the fears of the critics. And without a comprehensive agreement, the IAEA will lose this access, and it could be more difficult for the international community to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

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