The Escalating Crisis Over Iran’s Nuclear Inspections

An IAEA resolution based on questionable Israeli intelligence has sparked a crisis with Iran that could spin out of control, warns Scott Ritter.

By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News

The Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration pulled out of last year is on the verge of collapse.

The National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Iranian Parliament last Tuesday ratified a motion that required the Iranian government to cease its voluntary implementation of its Additional Protocol agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The motion, if turned into law, would represent a death knell to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), the groundbreaking agreement between Iran and the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union to end the crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

There is still time before the matter could be brought up for a vote; indeed, the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on July 6, and has invited Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif and Nuclear Chief Ali-Akbar Salehi to testify. 

IAEA Resolution

The current crisis over Iran’s nuclear program was triggered by the IAEA Board of Governors, which on June 19 passed a resolution expressing its “serious concern” over Iran’s refusal to provide “access to the Agency under the Additional Protocol to two locations.” The resolution said that “discussions engaged, for almost a year, to clarify Agency questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear related activities in Iran have not led to progress.”

The Board of Governors resolution required that “Iran shall cooperate fully and in a timely manner” with the IAEA in implementing its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, including “by providing acces.” The resolution reaffirmed that such “cooperation and implementation are essential for the IAEA to reach the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities.”

The First Three Years of the Deal

IAEA meeting on proposed Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East. Vienna, Austria, 21-22 November 2011. (Dean Calma / IAEA)

The Board of Governor’s June 19 resolution did not occur in a vacuum. For the first three years of the JCPOA’s implementation, Iran was repeatedly certified as being in full compliance with all of its obligations, including granting IAEA inspector’s access to facilities and locations mandated by the additional protocol.

The protocol is an expanded set of requirements for information and access between Iran and the IAEA. It assists IAEA inspectors to confirm that states are using nuclear material for solely peaceful purposes. The protocol is a voluntary agreement and is independently constructed between a state and the IAEA.

Iran negotiated its additional protocol with the IAEA in 2003, which was signed but never ratified. Nevertheless, Iran implemented the protocol on a voluntary basis from 2003 to 2006 before ending its cooperation in the face of allegations that Iran was cheating.

Iran and the IAEA then entered a decade-long confrontation, which was only resolved with the implementation of the JCPOA nuclear deal, which was unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council in resolution 2231 on July 20, 2015. That made the JCPOA binding under both international and U.S. constitutional law.

The nuclear deal established a road map, framed by mutually binding commitments, that took Iran from zero tolerance over nuclear enrichment, to a time when Iran would be able to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes without restriction, as long as the IAEA confirmed that Iran’s entire nuclear program had no military intentions. According to the deal, Iran would be subjected to stringent safeguards inspections that included the additional protocol.

Iran Reacts to Trump’s Move

Zarif (r.) negotiating nuclear deal with then US Secretary of State John Kerry in July, 2015.

When the Trump administration, acting on President Trump’s belief that the JCPOA was a “bad agreement,” withdrew from the JCPOA and began re-imposing U.S. economic sanctions, which had been lifted under the terms of the deal, Iran indicated that it would reconsider its participation.

For the time being, Iran continued to abide by its obligations under the deal, accepting European Union and the other JCPOA nations’ guarantees that regardless of what the U.S. did vis-à-vis sanctions, the other nations would not follow suit, and thereby fulfill their commitments to Iran under the terms of the JCPOA.

A year after the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, however, Europe collectively reneged on that commitment, succumbing to the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions, which threatened any European business that engaged in commerce with Iran.

In response, Iran invoked Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA. Article 26 holds that if new nuclear-related sanctions are imposed on Iran by any party to the deal it will constitute “grounds (for its authorities) to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Article 36 states that if actions by parties to the JCPOA “constitute significant non-performance, then (Iran) could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance.”

Iran stressed at the time that its retaliatory measures would be reversible as soon as Europe ignored the threat of secondary U.S. sanctions and fulfilled its obligations regarding sanctions-free trade with Iran.

Initially, Iran increased its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the 300 kilograms limit set by the JCPOA. When the Europeans continued to balk, Iran began enriching uranium to purity rates beyond the JCPOA limit of 3.76 percent.

Next, when Europe failed to meet a 60-day deadline to fulfill its commitments, Iran began to operate advanced centrifuges capable of boosting its enriched uranium stockpile, as well as activating advanced centrifuges for research and development purposes.

Lastly, in November 2019, Iran began injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at its Fordow plant, something which, while prohibited under the JCPOA, was conducted under IAEA inspection.

Interestingly, the IAEA Board of Governor’s June 19 resolution did not address these actions in any depth. Instead, the focus of attention was on the issue of Iran’s implementation of the additional protocol.

As noted, Iran had entered into voluntary compliance with the IAEA of an additional protocol agreed in 2003, but withdrew in 2006 in the face of allegations derived from intelligence provided to the IAEA by Israel of Iranian cheating [see: article published today in Consortium News, “Israel Leverages Dubious ‘Nuclear Archives’ to Re-Enlist IAEA in Campaign Against Iran.“]

Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to implement its additional protocol on a “provisional” basis for up to eight years before it became legally binding.

Iran insisted on these terms in order to prevent the kind of scenario that is, in fact, playing out today, where the United States has re-imposed sweeping economic sanctions against Iran, and is seeking to trigger so-called “snap-back” sanctions that would return Iran to the regimen of measures previously imposed by the Security Council, but terminated upon the council’s endorsement of the nuclear deal.

Israeli Allegations

Iran nuclear sites. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Board of Governor’s resolution mentions two sites that are alleged to be engaged in ongoing, undeclared nuclear activity. Normally, these sites would be ideal candidates for the kind of inspections envisioned under the protocol, and indeed Iran has a history of providing similar access to other sites.

What separates these sites from the others is that Iran claims the allegations about them are a product of Israeli intelligence, and as such are deemed to be fabrications designed to provoke Iran. “No country,” Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador told the Board of Governors before its vote on the June 19 resolution, “opens its territory to the inspections only based on continuous allegations provided by its own enemy, even if it is evident that the result of which will prove those allegations to be false.”

Iran’s position on the two sites does not appear to be out of fear over what would be discovered—indeed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the United Nations in September 2019 that, “If the U.S. Congress ratifies the JCPOA and lifts all sanctions permanently, Iran is ready to pursue the immediate ratification of the Additional Protocol in the Iranian parliament as a permanent law.”

‘Nothing to Hide’

Rather, it is a matter of principle for Iran. Indeed, Foreign Minister Zarif noted in a tweet that “an agreeable solution is possible” for the IAEA’s request for access to the two nuclear sites in the country—but not if Iran was subjected to pressure in the form of a Board of Governor’s resolution predicated on Israeli intelligence.

We’ve nothing to hide,” Zarif tweeted. “More inspections in Iran over last 5 yrs than in IAEA history. An agreeable solution is possible, but Res will ruin it.”

Zarif’s warning was of no avail. Shortly after the Board of Governors passed its resolution, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement declaring that:

Iran’s denial of access to IAEA inspectors and refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation is deeply troubling and raises serious questions about what Iran is trying to hide. Over the past months, Iran has not only continued its nuclear escalation and extortion, but it has also stonewalled the IAEA. These actions are unacceptable and underscore the continued threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to international peace and security.”

The battle lines have been drawn. By caving into pressure from the United States to force a resolution by the Board of Governors, the European nations who are party to the JCPOA have done great harm to that agreement.

Having forced a showdown with Iran over the issue of access to sites based upon intelligence of questionable provenance, the IAEA has once again opted to take the world to the brink of a crisis with Iran which could ultimately see that nation withdraw not only from the JCPOA, but also the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Not only would such an outcome undermine the issue of global nuclear nonproliferation, but also more than likely put Iran on a path toward the kind of decisive military confrontation that would spell ruin for the Middle East and, by extension, the entire world.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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21 comments for “The Escalating Crisis Over Iran’s Nuclear Inspections

  1. Fred Mc
    July 1, 2020 at 15:41

    Thank you, Scott. This was a most enlightening article, just like your excellent book on Iran. The source of all of the problems of Iran and the rest of the Middle East, always point back to a band of thugs at the east end of the Mediterranean (and their dual-citizenship patsies in the US).

    • Lapchick
      July 2, 2020 at 00:01

      Agreed, and as long as we have Trump, and his lieutenant Pompeo, who is as despicable as his master, in power, there cannot be a good outcome regarding this matter. Thugs at the east end of the Mediterranean and in Washington.

  2. William Rood
    July 1, 2020 at 12:02

    It’s not just a matter of “principle.” If Iran agrees to inspections of two sites based on Israeli intelligence, Israeli intelligence will then identify more sites that “need inspection.” Since WMD inspections were used in Iraq to spy on Iraq’s conventional (non-WMD) capabilities, Iran would be opening itself to similar espionage against its conventional retaliatory capability. Given FUKZUS support for Israel and aggression against other states in the region, it would be suicide for Iran to agree to those inspections.

    • Igor Bundy
      July 1, 2020 at 13:24

      Scott knows all about spying in Iraq..

  3. Ram
    July 1, 2020 at 11:28

    What lies exposed now is that the 5+1 is a fake facade to fool Iran. 5 turned out to be spineless puppets and their signatures on the document meant absolutely nothing.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    June 29, 2020 at 17:14

    Scott, great stuff here, actions do have repercussions especially when they are in writing. See below and check out Justin King’s humor as referenced below. A little laugh will do you some good.

    Now Iran is baiting the Mango Mussolini implying that one of their own generals made efforts to take better care of American troops than their own commander in Chief.

    See Beau of the Fifth Column and his Video titled “Lets Talk About Trump’s Warrants and an Inside Joke!

    Then remember that the republicans lent a big hand helping the M. M in all of this B.S. while the democrats ” ” ” ” ” couldn’t find the wherewithal to encourage their backers across the country side to rise up against the Mango Mussolini’s attacks on Iran .

    Ask yourself why the dimos didn’t scream “rape” or “fire ” or “You Lie!”!

    I’m just saying if it looks like bull shit, smells like bull shit you don’t have to taste it.

    The neocons and the Israeli right wing government want war with Iran let’s not take our eyes off these bastards for one second.

    . . . _ _ _ . . . The Ship of State is in need of serious attention!

    Thanks CN

  5. rosemerry
    June 29, 2020 at 16:43

    Netayahu has had this “Iran is about to nuke us” hysteria for 25 years, and yet this “intelligence” from the most dangerous country in the region is still accepted. What is the matter with Europe and its poodles? The USA is rich and violent, but giving in to blackmail is only leading to more demands, and the USA’s behavior under Trump, Pompass and Pence bears no relation to international law or even common sense. It is also worth noting that John Bolton was involved in the earlier attempts at an agreement mentioned by Scott Ritter, which without his interference could have resulted in a “better” deal than the final JCPOA. The US/Israel axis is, with NATO, one of the main reasons the chance for peace and negotiations to solve the real problems human face on earth seems distant.

  6. Sam F
    June 29, 2020 at 16:36

    It appears that Russia and/or China should step in and make military guarantees of Iran’s security against Israel, conditioned upon a lack of aggression by Iran. They could supply extensive air defenses in exchange for oil. This would be a very appropriate response to US sanctions, and would begin the economic isolation of the US.

    • MEexpert
      July 1, 2020 at 18:33

      Iran will never initiate any aggression. They will only respond in defence.

  7. Rob Roy
    June 29, 2020 at 13:07

    In all the years I’ve been watching Iran and reading about the JCPOA and listening to politicians, newscasters, pundits carry on about Iran’s capabilities to have nuclear arms that would threaten Israel, not one single person has ever said the obvious: Israel has nuclear arms…and included in any agreement should be that Israel get rid of them. Why is this never mentioned. Why hasn’t Iran asked for the IAEA to inspect Israel’s stockpile, as well as the stockpiles of all the countries who signed on to the deal? We all know that Iran decided in 2003 to never have nuclear weapons, the one country in the Middle East that should have them as a deterrent to Israeli aggression. After all, Israel has bombed many of its neighbors, Iran, none.
    When I was in Iran, the Iranians spoke of liking Americans, just not their leadership; in America no one says the same about Iranians. The thing that clears up the Obama participation in the JCPOA is a paper from the Brookings Institute called, “What Path to Persia.”

    • MEexpert
      July 1, 2020 at 18:39

      Israel has the gall to ask IAEA for this inspection while having more than 200 nuclear weapons herself. Which of course she doesn’t admit to having. US and the Europe know it. The IAEA knows it but dare not ask for the inspection. US will not permit it. IAEA cannot bite the hands that feed it.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      July 1, 2020 at 20:00

      The IAEA cannot ask to inspect Israel because Israel has never joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

  8. June 29, 2020 at 12:52

    IAEA “investigating” Iran but not Israel??
    Given Israel is the one that has undisclosed nuclear material, the IAEA should be investigating Israel.
    That the IAEA is singling out Iran is proof that it is racist, imperialist, and a US shill.

  9. Aaron
    June 29, 2020 at 12:37

    I saw a documentary, it may have been this one – [Stuxnet documentary: youtube.com/watch?v=7VgIayOpjEc]
    about the Stuxnet virus a few years ago, and basically it was suggested that it was possible, even probable, that Mossad and Israel, with whom the US works too closely with, may have used it without the consent of the US to infect and destroy centrifuges in Iran, which if true, would have been a terrible violation of the trust between us, and the trust between Iran and the U.S. nuclear negotiation process. And of course the virus was then blamed on US mistakes or whatever, to increase even more tension between the US and Iran. The main problem for the US seems to be that we cannot trust Israel, and Israel has always wanted the US to take their side against Iran, and pit us against them, with Israel in the background manipulating this unnecessary tension. So when President Trump strangely decided to withdraw from the agreement, one can assume that it was because that’s what Israel wanted him to do, not because it was in the best interest of the U.S.A. It’s a terribly dangerous situation. Because diplomacy and agreements and de-escalation can only exist with strong trust, and who can trust that the US is acting in a trustworthy manner when it just isn’t straightforward or honest about it’s relationship with Israel? And Hillary Clinton was such a staunch Zionist that she would start discussions about state conflicts with the phrase “The best way to help Israel….” I mean it’s just not any kind of fair and balance way to ever get any peace in the Middle East, and maybe the never-ending chaos and war in all the surrounding areas except in Israel, is precisely the plan and goal that Israel has been working hard to achieve. They get stronger and stronger, and the rest of the Middle East gets weaker, and the US is falling apart with their own domestic disasters at the same time. Does anyone wonder how really and truly great and strong and a force for good and a true city on a hill that America could have been and should have been after WWII, if we had just been neutral at least in the Middle East, not taking one side of the other? It has drained all of our resources and just made all kinds of enemies for us, so very sad and unnecessary.

    • MEexpert
      July 1, 2020 at 18:46

      None of the countries in the Middle East is a threat to the United States except Israel. Pat Buchanan called the congress of the United States an Israeli occupied territory. After the reaction to the BDS movement across the country, I would change that statement to “US is the Israeli occupied country.” The United States congress and the MSM are all bought and paid for by Israel with US money that it gets every year.

  10. John Puma
    June 29, 2020 at 12:00

    It appears that His Hairness (aka “Trump) has decided that out-of-control COVID-19 and an unprecedented collapse in the “exceptional” economy mandate a real juicy war to distract voters in November.

    • Marko
      June 29, 2020 at 16:10

      Yep. A “shock-and-awe” war with Iran , starting around election time , might be the only thing that could save Trump from defeat.

      And Trump’s good buddy , Bibi , would no doubt be happy to initiate that war , thus giving Trump the convenient excuse that the US was obligated to step in to support our good ally , Israel , “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

      If Iran is too big of a bite to chew at the moment , there’s always Venezuela. Threatened with an election loss , Trump is like a cornered rat – a menace. Nothing he does would surprise me in the coming months.

  11. Fred Mrozek
    June 29, 2020 at 11:41

    Israel actually is and does everything Israel falsely and hypocritically accuses Iran of being and doing.

    Mike Pompeo, given his whore-for-Israel act, is manifestly running for POTUS. What a shame to live in a formerly principled country that has been conquered by a bronze-age supremacist cult.

    Uncle Sam needs an exorcism.

  12. Jeff Harrison
    June 29, 2020 at 11:14

    When I lived in Iran, I was told that Iranians don’t revolt on an empty belly but rather on a full one. Pompous and Donnie Murdo might want to consider that before pushing more Israeli BS.

  13. Michael McNulty
    June 29, 2020 at 10:26

    Looks like America’s decided the day it dies it’s taking the rest of us with it.

    • MEexpert
      July 1, 2020 at 18:49

      Like Jim Jones on a MAGA scale.

Comments are closed.