Sometimes a comparison is the best way to illustrate a point.
Suppose, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri a year ago, the Obama administration had decided – as it in fact did – that the Ferguson police and courts needed to be investigated for their history of law enforcement practices.
But instead of the Obama Justice Department conducting an investigation itself, the federal government called in a third party to negotiate an agreement with the city of Ferguson as to how it would be investigated.
Applying the “Iran verification” standard to the issues of policing in American cities, the U.S. Justice Department would have relied on an “independent” third party – one without any legal authority, and only there at the sufferance of Ferguson – to come up with a plan of its own to investigate the city’s police department.
Suppose, for argument’s sake, that the third party was the Chamber of Commerce, with a hired team of subject matter experts. Under the Iran verification standard, it would sit down with the city authorities to decide how Ferguson’s past policing practices would be investigated. If the city would agree only to provide a self-reported summary of its policing history, without giving investigators access to buildings or records, or allowing them to question personnel, that’s the product the Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. DOJ would get.
There would probably be critics of this plan. But DOJ would tell them that it was standard for investigators in such cases to have “side agreements” with the cities involved, and that it wasn’t DOJ’s job to interfere in them, or even know what the terms were. Whatever the city of Ferguson gave the Chamber of Commerce would, if it satisfied the Chamber of Commerce, be good enough to answer the mail.
Would any supporter of Obama think this was a meaningful approach to documenting past law enforcement practices in Ferguson, and figuring out what to do about current problems?
Would this approach be acceptable if the issue were “disparate racial impact” in public school discipline? How about if it were the environmental impacts from fracking or coal-power production? Would the Obama EPA be happy for a third party to negotiate a “side agreement” that allowed natural gas producers and coal plant operators to provide photos and environmental samples, while denying independent investigators — much less the EPA — access to their physical plant?
How about using this approach to investigate BP’s oil-rig safety practices after the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010? Would Obama supporters be content to wait for a third party, one that was given no direct access, to certify whatever BP felt like reporting?
Of course not. Yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration wants Congress and the American people to buy into when it comes to investigating Iran’s nuclear program.
Plenty has been written in the last 24 hours about the terms of an IAEA side agreement with Iran, confirmed this week by the Associated Press. The agreement spells out how IAEA will – in effect – not verify that Iran has made no effort to develop a warhead detonation device at the Parchin military-industrial facility outside Tehran. Rather, IAEA inspectors will be excluded from physical presence in the suspect areas, and IAEA will trust the Iranians to submit their own environmental samples, videos, and photos of the complex.
This information about the side agreement is not actually new. It was raised in late July in Senate hearings on the Iran JCPOA. Neither John Kerry nor Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz – both key players in the negotiations – denied to the Senate that the side agreement contained these terms. Kerry and Moniz verified the existence of the side agreement, in fact, and described it as standard for such unpublished, secret agreements to be used. Kerry offered to give the Senators a classified briefing on the side agreement – even though he also stressed that the U.S. has not been given access to it.
The reaction of JCPOA supporters to the AP report has been to emphasize that this agreement is about resolving IAEA’s questions regarding Iran’s past activities. The side agreement on Parchin isn’t about monitoring current or future activities, which are a separate issue.
The implication is that self-sampling and selfies are good enough for resolving the lingering questions about the past. Going forward, suggest Team Obama and its allies, is where we’ll see the tough, unprecedentedly rigorous verification regime for Iran’s military-related nuclear work.
The big problem with that logic – even more important than the point that verifying Iran’s past activities is crucial – is that there is nothing written down about the nature of the verification regime for military-related activities going forward. The JCPOA is silent as to methods and measures. It does not describe a rigorous verification regime. It doesn’t describe a verification regime at all.
All it says is that Iran and IAEA will develop agreements for inspecting the military-related sites IAEA requests access to. If IAEA isn’t satisfied, it can appeal to the JCPOA’s Joint Commission – on which Iran is one of the eight voting members.
So the only model we have to go by, in judging how this verification process is going to work, is the text of the side agreement on Parchin. And that text says we’re going to take Iran’s word for it.
If that approach isn’t good enough for Ferguson, fracking, or BP, it isn’t good enough for the nuclear program of a radical regime that is still the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism.