Did the Obama Administration Backtrack on the IAEA’s Dumbed-Down Iran Reporting? (NRO 3/10/16)


By Fred Fleitz

Yesterday, I wrote in National Review that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports on Iran’s nuclear program have been dumbed down by the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and will not give specifics on possible Iranian cheating on the deal. Some important aspects of Iran’s nuclear program will no longer be discussed in these reports.

Russia and China support the new scaled-back IAEA reports. Although Obama officials earlier this week said the U.S. also was satisfied with the reports, they reportedly backtracked yesterday when U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Henry Ensher called on Amano to continue to “provide robust and detailed reporting on Iran’s implementation of its commitments.”

Amano told the Associated Press he won’t be pressured and that his Iran reporting will remain “factual, impartial and include the information which the agency considers necessary.”

The Obama administration reversal came after sharp criticism of the new dumbed-down IAEA reports in National Review, Town Hall, and the Washington Free Beacon.

Barbara Slavin, a strong supporter of the Obama administration and the Iran nuclear deal, defended the IAEA’s report in an al-Monitor article yesterday. However, she also cited criticism of the IAEA’s new reporting style by two arms-control experts and said “Experts acknowledge that the tone as well as the length of the reports has changed as the IAEA has moved from a position of questioning what amounted to a suspected criminal — the agency’s attitude toward Iran since undeclared nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002 — to monitoring what amounts to that country’s nuclear probation.”

Slavin’s comment is key to understanding what’s going on with the new IAEA reports: The IAEA will no longer investigate alleged “criminal” nuclear activities by Iran since it has been absolved of these activities. The U.S. and other nations voted in December to close the books on Iran’s past nuclear weapons related work. In January, 17 IAEA resolutions on Iran were terminated, many of which were the basis for inspections of its nuclear program. By taking these actions, IAEA members ended the IAEA’s mandate for comprehensive inspections of Iran’s nuclear program and investigating unresolved issues of past nuclear weapons-related work.

This does not explain why the IAEA’s new reports are so vague on its new inspection assignment to verify Iran’s compliance with the July 2015 nuclear deal. (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.) I wrote in my March 9 National Review article that this was probably a Western concession to Iran which has long pressed for less-detailed IAEA reports.

We’ll see when the IAEA issues its next quarterly report whether Amano gives in to calls by the U.S. and European states to provide more detailed information on Iran’s nuclear program. I doubt this will happen because China and Russia support the new reports and Iran thinks they are too detailed. For the IAEA to resume issuing the type of comprehensive report it last published in November would require the IAEA Board of Governors to pass a resolution reinstating the agency’s previous inspection mandates. Since this would reverse key elements of the nuclear deal and probably would cause Iran to withdraw from the agreement, I see zero chance of that happening.

Given the constant deception and misinformation peddled by Obama officials on its nuclear diplomacy with Iran, I believe the calls by U.S. officials for the IAEA to be more forthcoming in its Iran reports were political ploys intended to deflect Republican criticism of the nuclear deal and not a sincere attempt to pressure Amano to change the reports. The Obama administration views the Iran deal as a major win for President Obama’s legacy. It does not plan to do anything that could jeopardize this win.

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