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JCPOA compliance is monitored by the IAEA.

IAEA inspectors spend around 3000 man-days a year in Iran.

The Iranian leadership declared military sites off-limits to the inspectors. Prior to the signing of the agreement, at least one of these sites was known to include a nuclear research facility.

Given this, how does the IAEA confirm compliance with the JCPOA at these sites?

Note: It appears that the IAEA entered into a self-certification agreement with the Iranian authorities for the Parchin complex, at which nuclear testing was known to be being performed. Perhaps this is the compliance-checking mechanism used?

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    Re "Prior to the signing of the agreement, at least one of these sites was known to include a nuclear research facility." Which one? – Fizz Jan 15 at 0:42
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    For example, the Mojdeh SPND site referenced in this document. iaea.org/sites/default/files/gov-2015-68.pdf – Ben Jan 15 at 1:08
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    I am probably not on the same side as the OP as far as the desirability of the agreement, but it's still a valid question and very relevant at this point in time. Close-spamming questions (esp the generic off-topic cuz not about not govt or policies), not because they are bad questions, but because you disagree with someone's views in asking the question in the first place, is rather lame. As far as the question making questionable claims wrt off-limit sites, that can be dealt with in the answers. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Jan 15 at 21:37
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    -1 Incorrect premise. The JCPOA is still in effect and being monitored. – Keith McClary Jan 16 at 17:07
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    The revised - "Given that IAEA inspectors are denied direct access to Iranian military sites" - it's not a given, since IAEA inspectors have never been denied access to any site they have requested since the agreement was entered into. If you feel that they would be, but they still never have, that would be an assumption, not a given. "arguing against assertions I never made" - that assertion was made by the answer you are complaining did not get up-votes, which you had deemed to be the best answer, before you went and extensive edited that answer. – PoloHoleSet Jan 16 at 20:28
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The JCPOA was never meant to be verified.

That's the only logical conclusion.

Else it would have contained explicit provisions for permitting access to military facilities. After all, the JCPOA is about the militarisation of nuclear technology.

As it stands, the JCPOA arbitration mechanism provides room for Iran to deny physical access to military sites by IAEA inspectors, by relying on the voting mechanism of the Joint Commission.

Else it never would have contained a clause that placed Iranian military sites off limits to verification - especially given that at least one of the sites was, as you've posted, already known to be a nuclear research facility.

There's actually been a lot written about what seems might be the actual point of the JCPOA: its goal seems to have been to get the US out of being involved in the Middle East by ceding power to Iran.

If the actual goal of the JCPOA was not to stop the Iranian nuclear program but was to get the US out of the Middle East. then verification of Iranian compliance with the JCPOA's "anti-nuclear proliferation" provisions (for lack of a better term) was not really all that important.

Getting the US out of the Middle East seems like a laudable goal. Turning it over to Iran? Maybe not so much.

Senator Chuck Schumer wrote this:

In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) – the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.

Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.

Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.

...

When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.

...

To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.

That's from Chuck Schumer, hardly any fan of President Trump.

That doesn't sound like the description of any agreement actually meant to have compliance verified. In fact, it seems like the JCPOA was designed to make actual compliance verification effectively impossible.

If the JCPOA were meant to be verified, why did it reportedly have "secret loopholes"?

U.S., others agreed 'secret' exemptions for Iran after nuclear deal: think tank

The United States and its negotiating partners agreed “in secret” to allow Iran to evade some restrictions in last year’s landmark nuclear agreement in order to meet the deadline for it to start getting relief from economic sanctions, according to a think tank report published on Thursday.

That's consistent with a JCPOA actual goal of allowing the US to withdraw from the Middle East.

Furthermore, from 2015 we have this, which explicitly claims that the goal of the JCPOA was not to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program but to allow the US to disengage from the Middle East:

Obama Strikes a Deal--With Qassem Suleimani

According to the terms of the Iran deal announced in Vienna on Tuesday, U.N. Security Council sanctions regarding nuclear-related issues will be lifted on a number of entities and individuals—from Iranian banks to Lebanese assassins, like Anis Nacacche. The name that most sticks out is IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. Administration officials counsel calm, and explain that Suleimani is still on the U.S. terror list and will remain on the terror list. But that’s irrelevant. The reality is that Suleimani is the key to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The White House’s so-called nuclear talks with Iran over the last 18 months were never about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. ...

...

The negotiations were about something else entirely—they were about what Obama has described as a new geopolitical equilibrium, which would stabilize the Middle East and allow the administration to further minimize its role in the region. The way Obama described it publicly, this new security architecture was going to balance Iran against traditional American allies, like Saudi Arabia. However, it soon became apparent that the White House wasn’t really balancing at all, but had rather chosen one team over the others, Iran.

So the goal was to disengage the US from the Middle East entirely, while not leaving a power vacuum/failed state situation as in Libya. Iran would stabilize the Middle East.

Else why would the US look the other way about how the money Iran would get would go towards funding terrorism. Because the Obama administration knew some of the money Iran got from the JCPOA would fund terrorism:

John Kerry: Some sanctions relief money for Iran will go to terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged to CNBC Thursday that some of the money Iran received in sanctions relief would go to groups considered terrorists.

Note that was reported when it happened back in 2015-2016. The Obama administration knew but pushed forward with the JCPOA anyway. I assume the calculation was that any terrorism Iran sponsored would not be directed at the US as the US would have removed itself from the Middle East, although that seems extremely realpolitik given Iran's recent history with its neighbors.

Importantly, why else were all sanctions removed from Qassem Soleimani?

The Iran deal’s Qassem Soleimani problem

Buried on page 95 of the draft of the nuclear agreement released by the Russians is the fact that sanctions will be lifted on Qassem Soleimani, head of the Qods Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with export of revolution.

...

Here’s the question: If this was just about Iran’s nuclear program, as President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly insisted, then why have diplomats agreed to lift sanctions on Soleimani? Then again, perhaps this is a subtle reminder that Soleimani had all along a very deep interest in Iran’s nuclear capabilities after all.

also from

Obama Strikes a Deal--With Qassem Suleimani

... The president seemed to marvel at the fact that from Hezbollah to the Houthis to the Iraqi militias, Iran has such a deep bench of effective proxies willing to advance its interests. Where, he asked, are their equivalent on the Sunni side?

Guess who ran those proxies?

Yes, Qassem Soleimani. He was the key to the way the JCPOA seemingly ceded power in the Middle East to Iran.

And Iran was never in compliance with the JCPOA even pre-Trump:

UN reports increasing violations of Iran nuclear deal

Uranium particles of man-made origin have been discovered at a site in Iran not declared to the United Nations, the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Monday as it confirmed a litany of violations by Tehran of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has begun enriching uranium at a heavily fortified installation inside a mountain, is increasing its stockpile of processed uranium, and is exceeding the allowable enrichment levels.

All such steps are prohibited under the agreement Iran reached with world powers to prevent it from building a bomb.

Again, the Obama administration knew all that.

If the goal of the JCPOA were to stop Iranian nuclear research, why continue to support it when Iranian violations came to light?

Again, the only reason logically consistent with that was written about quite a bit contemporaneously with the JCPOA being signed: the actual purpose of the JCPOA was to allow the US to remove itself from the Middle East without creating an entire region of failed states.

And that didn't require actual compliance verification.

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    For someone claiming that there is a clause that leads to an inescapable conclusion, this answer is lacking in any kind of reference to anything showing that such a clause, agreeing to military sites as being off limits, exists. Probably because it doesn't. Citing reports from the end of 2019, long after the USA left the deal and forced draconian sanctions on Iran, and saying that the Obama administration "knew that" shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how humans experience time, as well. – PoloHoleSet Jan 14 at 22:48
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    JCPOA does not exclude sites, but the IAEA has chosen not to themselves inspect at least one military site with a history of nuclear research. For example, Iran was permitted to self-certify the Parchin complex, which seems wholly unsatisfactory. – Ben Jan 15 at 1:11
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    @Ben - This seems like a pretty wholesale edit you just made to someone else's answer. Is that a second account of yours? – PoloHoleSet Jan 16 at 19:53
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    @Ben "fix a factual inaccuracy" is not a valid reason for editing another person's post, especially given there is no indication the added text is not from the OP. – TemporalWolf Jan 17 at 22:42
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    Of course it is. This kind of change is the whole purpose of the wiki function. – Ben Jan 17 at 23:00
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No sites were agreed as "off limits." There is no clause in the agreement saying that any are. When negotiating the deal, there was, of course, noise and bluster, mostly from politicians looking to score points with their bases about that, but there was never any kind of site that was declared to be off limits, and Iran never refused access to any sites requested by the IAEA. After Trump took office, and they made noise about wanting unfettered access to all their military sites, without any evidence that there was reason to suspect nuclear activity, of course Iran pushed back, as any sovereign nation would. If Iran demanded access to US military sites, nuclear and not, we'd laugh at such a request.

There were sites that were agreed that the IAEA would have unfettered access to, and agreements for a process for them to get access to other sites, if they showed cause to investigate.

The agreement allows for a "long-term IAEA presence in Iran" to monitor materials and nuclear development that wouldn't be used in weapons. Inspectors will have continuous monitoring capabilities at known nuclear facilities like Fordow fuel enrichment plant and the Natanz enrichment facility. For other areas in the country, including military sites where there is suspected nuclear activity, IAEA inspectors will have to request access.

If inspectors have concerns that Iran is developing its nuclear capabilities at any of the non-official nuclear sites, they are allowed to request access "for the sole reason to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with" the agreement. They must also inform Iran of the basis for their concerns.

Iran, in response, can propose alternatives to inspection that might satisfy the IAEA's concerns, the deal says. But if they can't come to an agreement to satisfy the inspectors within 14 days of the original request for access, the issue goes to a joint commission that consists of representatives from the P5+1 powers (the U.S., China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany), Iran, and the European High Representative for Foreign Affairs. They have another seven days to reach an agreement that must be supported at least five of the eight members. If they decide inspectors should get access, Iran has three days to provide it.

CBS News: Obama says inspectors get access to "any" site in Iran. Is it true?

The thing is, even if Iran had months of time, they couldn't hide a nuclear program. The equipment and infrastructure are too heavy-duty to be thrown into a truck and hauled away, and you're dealing with material that leaves traces for hundreds of thousands of years.

In the agreement, Iran gave access that was more intrusive than any nation had ever agreed to before, and they lived up to their end of the agreement.

It said the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog was able to carry out all so-called complementary access inspections needed to verify Iran’s compliance with the deal.

“Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhances confidence,” said the report, which was distributed to IAEA member states.

“The production rate (of enriched uranium) is constant. There is no change whatsoever,” a senior diplomat added.

Reuters - Iran is complying with nuclear deal restrictions: IAEA report

  • By August 2017, Iran had "repeatedly stated'[1] that access would not be granted for IAEA inspectors to their military sites. The question might then become - given that at least one such site was known to have been a nuclear research facility prior to the agreement, why did the IAEA not choose to inspect it (at which point a refusal would have put Iran in non-compliance of the JCPOA)? [1] eg. Iranian regime’s Financial Tribune on August 23, 2017 – Ben Jan 14 at 23:58
  • @Ben: if you're talking about this story it also said "Under the deal, the IAEA can request access to Iranian sites including military ones if it has concerns about activities there that violate the agreement, but it must show Iran the basis for those concerns. That means new and credible information pointing to such a violation is required first, officials from the agency and major powers say. There is no indication that Washington has presented such information to back up its call for inspections of Iranian military sites." – Fizz Jan 15 at 0:39
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    @Ben - there are tell-tale signs of activities, structures and information about sites that leads the IAEA to have suspicions about possible sites. Iran is heavily under surveillance by any number of USA agencies, and many of our allies, all of whom would be happy to point out suspicious activity. None of the US demands for more access have included any kind of relevant intelligence being shared. It's not that we wouldn't know if there was suspicious activity that needed to be confirmed. We knew, without North Korea sharing, that they were continuing with tests at sites, for example. – PoloHoleSet Jan 15 at 17:11
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    @Ben - Yes, and Iran NEVER DENIED ACCESS TO SITES under JCPOA. The noises they made about not allowing access to sites was not in response to IAEA requests, but from Trump Administration bluster and complaints, so I'm not sure why you the fact that they signed the agreement, which they fully complied with, is relevant to their responding to complaints from a party that pulled out of the agreement, when that party, as outsiders, were agitating for actions outside of the agreement. – PoloHoleSet Jan 15 at 19:42
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    @Ben - the crux if the issue is actually that JCPOA was the most intrusive and comprehensive verification program ever agreed to for any nation, ever, and the IAEA has a pretty well established track record of being right when questions arise (the same claims were made about Iraq, I seem to recall). No, any military site would not be suspected of nuclear activity. Would Ft. Hood? Camp Pendleton? There are specific types of activity which makes a site a likely suspect. And, no, it's not that the US was rebuffed in anything legitimate. We exited because it was an Obama agreement. Period. – PoloHoleSet Jan 16 at 19:45
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No the IAEA did not enter a "self-certification agreement with the Iranian authorities" regarding Parchin if that's what this confusing question is about. Instead

The diplomats, who have knowledge of the deal, said that while the IAEA inspectors will not be next to the Iranian technicians when they take samples, they will be at Parchin overseeing the process. Cameras will record the process.

I don't know if IEAE has requested to inspect the SPND (aka Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research) headquarters, which seems to be another prong of your question. But the IAEA document you link on that does not allege any fissile material stored there. The US has imposed unilateral sanctions against SPND though in March 2019. I see no mention in that latter article of IAEA (e.g. having requested access but having been denied to SPND). And the reason why SPND isn't so hot for IAEA might be that the information is not of present relevance, as an article in The Atlantic (on the 2018 revelations of Netanyahu on the topic) suggests:

In his presentation last week, Netanyahu cited a secret Iranian nuclear program called Project Amad (which the IAEA had reported on in 2011). The project had been shuttered, he claimed, but “today, in 2018, this work is carried out by SPND, that’s an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry.” The implication is that Iran’s nuclear-weapons project continues; all that has changed is its name. But Netanyahu offered no evidence of that. And in the materials his aides distributed to journalists, the present tense was removed.

Similarly, Bolton has repeatedly declared—despite the IAEA’s findings and without proof—that Iran is still actively seeking nuclear weapons. Last September, he said, “Iran’s program continues unhindered.” This March, he spoke about Iran’s “continued effort to get deliverable nuclear weapons.” Which helps explain why the Trump administration keeps suggesting the same thing. After Netanyahu’s presentation, the White House issued a statement declaring that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear-weapons program.” It later changed “has” to “had,” but Trump himself keeps using the present tense. Asked about Netanyahu’s presentation, he declared, “I’ve been saying it’s happening. They’re not sitting back idly.”


The edited/long version of the question is basically a case of "no true Scotsman". The point of all inspection regimes is to make something (much) less likely to happen. That's the point of reducing Iran's stockpile of enriched materials, reducing their centrifuges etc. If you want to be 100% sure they're not making anything, occupy and/or annihilate them.

  • The inspection you refer to occurred before JCPOA came into effect. – Ben Jan 15 at 2:09
  • @Ben: Evidence? Dershowitz who's opinion piece you linked (hardly a reliable source on this) says "it was revealed that Tehran and the IAEA had entered into a secret agreement which allowed the Iranian regime to carry out its own nuclear trace testing at the Parchin complex, a site long suspected of being a nuclear testing ground, and would report back to the IAEA with “selective” videos and photos." So it seems to me he is "revealing" the same inspection process, with his own interpretation of it. He gives no dates whatsoever. – Fizz Jan 15 at 2:17
  • The datestamp on the article you link is September 2015. JCPOA came into effect in October that year. – Ben Jan 15 at 2:19
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    @Ben: yes, and the article I linked to is talking about the protocol for the future inspections. (By the way, you accepting the most downvoted answer here proves my point that you were probably not asking this in good faith.) – Fizz Jan 15 at 2:20
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    @Ben - if it was allowed before the agreement, and Iran allowed it before they were required to..... why is it relevant? Also, keep in mind that the article you posted in the comment was an OPINION piece in the Hill, by Alan Dershowitz, who has become more and more entrenched in the conservative "Israel can do no wrong, no matter what" perspective over the past decade +. As such, his characterizations in an op-ed about Iran probably should not be considered gospel fact. – PoloHoleSet Jan 15 at 19:46

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