Despite President Barack Obama’s assurances last week that the world will “know” if Iran cheats on the nuclear deal being negotiated with the P5+1, in an interview  with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times Saturday, the president’s response supported one of the key objections to the known terms of the deal.
When asked by Friedman if the terms of the deal would mean that inspectors could check anywhere in Iran if there were suspicions that Iran was cheating the president responded.
“That we suspect,” the president answered. “Obviously, a request will have to be made. Iran could object, but what we have done is to try to design a mechanism whereby once those objections are heard, that it is not a final veto that Iran has, but in fact some sort of international mechanism will be in place that makes a fair assessment as to whether there should be an inspection, and if they determine it should be, that’s the tiebreaker, not Iran saying, ‘No, you can’t come here.’ So over all, what we’re seeing is not just the additional protocols that I.A.E.A. has imposed on countries that are suspected of in the past having had problematic nuclear programs, we’re going even beyond that, and Iran will be subject to the kinds of inspections and verification mechanisms that have never been put in place before.”
Though the president didn’t address the specifics of the “international mechanism” for detecting and responding to Iranian cheating on the nuclear deal, others have. Olli Heinonen, the former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Gen. Michael Hayden, former Director of Central Intelligence, and Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, warned  last month in an op-ed published in The Washington Post:
Given that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be the on-site inspection organization responsible for the verification of an agreement, the United States’ scoop would have to be forwarded to that body. Of course, both the speed and the extent of U.S. sharing would be affected by the need to protect sensitive human or technical sources of information. Only then would IAEA representatives begin talking with their Iranian counterparts about gaining access to disputed sites or activities. History suggests the Iranians would engage in protracted negotiations and much arcane questioning of the evidence. Iran could eventually offer some access while holding back key data and personnel. It would be only after tortured discussions that the IAEA could proclaim itself dissatisfied with Iran’s reaction. This process also could take months.
Knowing that Iran is cheating is not the same as responding to the cheating. The “international mechanism” for verifying and responding to Iranian violations could take well more than the year the administration says that it would take Iran to breakout – produce enough fuel for a nuclear weapon – according to the terms of the emerging deal. Heinonen estimates that the parameters of the deal would allow  for a breakout time of only seven to eight months.
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