AS THE Obama administration pushes to complete an agreement-in-principle with Iran on its nuclear program by Tuesday, it has done little to soothe concerns that it is rushing too quickly to settle, offering too many concessions and ignoring glaring warning signs that Tehran won’t abide by any accord. One story incorporates all three of those worries: Iran’s failure to deliver on multiple pledges to answer questions about its suspected research on nuclear warheads.
The United States believes that, prior to 2003, Iran conducted extensive studies and tests on building a bomb and mounting it on a long-range missile — belying its claims that it has pursued nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes. U.S. intelligence was long ago turned over to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, starting in 2006, have ordered Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in clarifying these “possible military dimensions.”
Twice, in 2007 and in 2013, Iran agreed with the IAEA on a “work plan” to clear up the military research issues. In both instances, it then stonewalled inspectors, refusing to answer questions or permit access to sites. After the agency sought access in 2011 to a military complex called Parchin, where warhead detonation tests may have been carried out, satellite surveillance revealed that Iran had demolished buildings and excavated ground in an apparent cover-up operation.
In frustration, the IAEA published an extensive report detailing what it already knew about the illicit bomb work and listed 12 outstanding issues. Two years later, in the hope of sealing an interim deal allowing the partial lifting of sanctions, the government of Hassan Rouhani agreed on a “step-by-step” plan to answer the questions.
But instead of implementing the plan, the regime went back to stonewalling. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told The Post’s Steven Mufson this week that Iran had provided information on just one of the 12 issues. On two others, Mr. Amano said, it had given “very limited” responses, and the remaining nine had not been addressed at all.
An appropriate response to this blatant violation of agreements would be to insist that Iran complete the IAEA work plan before any long-term accord is signed or any further sanctions lifted. Inspectors need their questions answered so that they will be able to determine later whether Iran has violated the controls on its nuclear research expected to be part of a deal. Furthermore, it is vital to establish that Tehran will deliver on its commitments and that it will be held accountable if it does not.
Remarkably, however, negotiators — including the supposedly hard-line French, who have taken the lead on the “military dimensions” issue — have reportedly agreed to let Iran’s noncompliance slide. The IAEA’s unanswered questions will be rolled over and rebundled into the new agreement, with a new time line. That means that Iran will have some sanctions lifted before it complies with a commitment it first made eight years ago.
The question this raises was articulated months ago in congressional testimony by nuclear weapons expert David Albright: “If Iran is able to successfully evade addressing the IAEA’s concerns now, when biting sanctions are in place, why would it address them later when these sanctions are lifted?” In its rush to complete a deal, the Obama administration appears eager to ignore the likely answer.