Nuke Inspectors Gear Up For Iran, But Americans Unlikely To Be Included | KUOW News and Information

Nuke Inspectors Gear Up For Iran, But Americans Unlikely To Be Included

Jul 18, 2015
Originally published on July 20, 2015 11:31 am

The International Atomic Energy Agency has the big job of making sure Iran complies with the landmark nuclear deal reached this week in Vienna.

So how will the IAEA go about this? How many inspectors will they have? How many will be Americans?

Thomas Shea, who spent more than two decades as an IAEA inspector, says Iran does not accept any American inspectors today. He recently told the Atlantic Council that he hopes that will change.

"I do think that there's a need for more Americans on the staff," he said, pointing out that the U.S. pays a quarter of the IAEA's $380 million annual budget. Shea says this should entitle the U.S. to have one out of four of the inspector jobs.

However, the language in the agreement says that Iran "will generally allow the designation of inspectors from nations that have diplomatic relations with Iran."

Since the U.S. and Iran broke off ties after the 1979 Islamic revolution, it appears unlikely that any American inspectors will be getting a first-hand look at the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Trevor Findlay of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs says it is not necessary and, perhaps, not helpful, to have American inspectors inside Iran.

"In the Iraq case that was a significant point of controversy," Findlay told NPR. The presence of US inspectors in UN teams in Iraq "caused political difficulties and in the end was counterproductive."

Iraq accused U.S. inspectors of being spies and claimed their main aim was to obtain Iraqi military secrets.

A U.S. Role Outside Iran

The IAEA needs to make sure that its reports on Iran are viewed around the world as objective, Findlay said. He thinks the U.S. could do more in Vienna, where the inspectors' reports are analyzed and where the IAEA's task force on Iran is based.

"The United States often provides cost-free experts to the agency, they provide technology, they provide intelligence information, so the role of the United States is critical," Findlay said.

The IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano, says it costs about one million euros (a little more than $1 million) a month to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear program at present and that figure may rise as this deal is implemented.

The agency will need additional inspectors and the agreement calls for that number to rise to between 130 and 150 that are dedicated to Iran. They will rotate in and out, and only a small portion of the total are expected to be in Iran at any one time.

U.S. officials say they will make sure the IAEA has what it needs. Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert in the White House, told the Atlantic Council that the Obama administration is already offering technology to ensure Iran adheres to strict limits on its uranium enrichment program.

He cited the cameras and online enrichment monitors that will be installed at enrichment facilities.

"It's sort of like a thermostat. You could set it so that when it hits 3.67, you are good," Wolfsthal explained, referring to the level to which Iran can enrich uranium under the deal. "When it hits 3.68, it sends an alarm out and we know they've gone above the enrichment level."

IAEA inspectors won't just be monitoring known nuclear sites. They will also try to make sure there are no hidden facilities.

If inspectors want to go a site, Iran has a maximum of 24 days to let inspectors in or satisfy the IAEA's requests in other ways before Iran is found in non-compliance. Wolfsthal disagrees with those who say this deal gives Iran too much leeway.

"Are we worried Iran is going to build an underground enrichment or reprocessing facility? If they are, they can't get rid of it in 24 days," he said, describing uranium as a "pesky element" with a half-life of about 4 billion years. "That doesn't easily go away."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The International Atomic Energy Agency is charged with monitoring Iran's nuclear program and trying to make certain it sticks to the deal. The U.S. helps fund the IAEA, but no American inspectors will be allowed into Iran. Some experts say the U.S. should still support the U.N. agency's work by sending it more experts and more technology. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Thomas Shea spent more than two decades as an inspector with the IAEA but not inside Iran.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS SHEA: Any country under the Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards arrangement can say yes or no to any individual inspector that is proposed, and Iran does not accept American inspectors today.

KELEMEN: And under the deal, Iran will only allow in inspectors from countries with which it has diplomatic relations. Still, Shea told a Washington think tank that he hopes this will change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEA: I do think that there is a need for more Americans on the staff. At present time, the IAEA budget - one-quarter of it is paid by the United States. That's the U.N. formula.

KELEMEN: That means Americans are entitled to a quarter of the IAEA jobs, he says, though it's far short of that now, at about 12 percent. Another expert on the organization agrees it would be in the U.S. interest to beef up its presence at the IAEA. But Trevor Findlay of Harvard's Belfer Center says it's probably not helpful to have American inspectors in Iran.

TREVOR FINDLAY: You may recall that in the Iraq case - that was a significant point of controversy, that American inspectors were in Iraq as part of the U.N. bodies. And it caused political difficulties and in the end was counterproductive.

KELEMEN: The IAEA needs to make sure that its reports are viewed around the world as unbiased. But, he adds, the U.S. could do more in Vienna, where the inspectors' reports are analyzed and where the IAEA's task force on Iran is based.

FINDLAY: The United States often provides cost-free experts to the agency. They provide technology. They provide intelligence information. So the role of the United States is critical.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say they will make sure the IAEA has what it needs to carry out a monitoring mission in Iran that costs about $1 million a month for a pool of up to 150 inspectors. Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert in the White House, told the Atlantic Council that the Obama administration is already offering technology to ensure Iran adheres to strict limits to its uranium enrichment program.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON WOLFSTHAL: A great example is the new types of cameras or the online enrichment flow monitors that will instantaneously be checking the enrichment level. It's sort of like a thermostat. You could set it when it hits 3.68, it sends a little alarm out, and we know immediately that they've gone above the enrichment level.

KELEMEN: The inspectors won't just be watching known nuclear sites. They'll also have to try to make sure there are no hidden facilities. If inspectors want to visit a suspect site, Iran has a maximum of 24 days to either let inspectors in or satisfy the IAEA's request in other ways, before Iran is formally found in noncompliance. Wolfsthal brushes off those who say this gives Iran too much leeway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WOLFSTHAL: Are we worried Iran is going to build an underground enrichment or reprocessing facility? If they are, you can't get rid of it in 24 days 'cause it turns out uranium, which has a half-life of about 4 billion years, is kind of a pesky element. It doesn't go away for very easily.

KELEMEN: The White House official doesn't think this will become a cat and mouse game. And he believes the IAEA is up to the task. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.