Verifying Iran’s Nuclear Commitments

by Peter Jenkins

On April 22, in the latest of a long line of congressional testimonies on Iran’s nuclear program, the president of the Institute for International Science and Security, David Albright, issued a challenge to the six powers seeking a comprehensive resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran.

Albright argued that “Iran’s long history of violations, subterfuge, and non-cooperation requires extraordinary [verification] arrangements to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful.”

Was that good advice?

The first thing that has to be considered is whether the goal of international nuclear verification is to ensure the peaceful nature of programs or to deter their evolving in a non-peaceful direction.

The opening sentence of Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) reads as follows:

Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency…for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

This sentence envisages a system based on deterrence. Under this system, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will despatch inspectors to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) are respecting their commitment to refrain from taking steps to acquire nuclear weapons. The inspectors’ job is not to ensure that NNWS respect their commitments—the inspectors lack the means to do that—but to make NNWS fear that they will be detected if they attempt to transgress, leading to consequences at the hands of other parties to the NPT.

Ensuring Effectiveness

A second question is whether this system is effective. Can NPT parties rely on the IAEA to deter non-compliance with the non-proliferation obligation?

For some time after the NPT entered into force in 1970 the answer was “no.” The verification options conceded to the IAEA by NNWS in the safeguards agreements required by Article III were inadequate. With the exception of a provision for special inspections, which has never been invoked, IAEA inspectors could only access facilities and locations at which NNWS had declared nuclear material to be in use or stored.

The defective nature of these arrangements became obvious in 1991. That year in Iraq IAEA inspectors discovered hitherto undetected, because undeclared, uranium conversion and enrichment facilities, and came across evidence of extensive research into the design and construction of nuclear weapons.

This led to the drafting of a model “Additional Protocol” (additional to the standard Article III safeguards agreement). This model agreement was expressly designed to boost IAEA verification options so as to minimize the risk of recurrence of covert programs similar to Iraq’s.

The Additional Protocol has greatly increased the IAEA’s confidence in the effectiveness of verification as a deterrent. This is manifest in a distinction made in the annual IAEA Safeguards Implementation Report:

  • Where only a standard 1970s safeguards agreement is in force, the Agency confines itself to stating that it has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at nuclear facilities and locations declared by those states;
  • Where an Additional Protocol is also in force, the Agency feels able to state, once an initial comprehensive verification has been completed, that it can provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in that State.

So, as long as Iran applies the Additional Protocol—and the Joint Statement of 2 April indicates this to be Iran’s intention—members of Congress, and the rest of the world, can feel confident that IAEA verification will deter Iran from seeking to proliferate.

Why Not Go Beyond Deterrence?

Albright can, if he wishes, hold the view that deterrence is not enough. He can advocate subjecting Iran to unprecedented arrangements that are designed to make it impossible for Iran ever to use nuclear energy to acquire nuclear weapons. But if he wants to go down that path, then he has to demonstrate that such arrangements are negotiable. This he failed to do on April 22. Was that an oversight, or does he privately recognize the limits of what it is realistic to expect of Iran in the current negotiations?

After all, Iran in 2015 is not Japan in 1945. It is not a defeated country, at the mercy of the United States and its allies. It is a sovereign state that has retained the power to determine for itself what international obligations it will assume. Moreover Iran has not shown itself to be susceptible to coercion or to be ready to sacrifice national self-respect by submitting to norms that would mark it out as a gross exception.

Albright also has to justify exceptional arrangements by explaining why Iran deserves to be singled out. On April 22, he detailed Iran’s “long history of violations, subterfuge and non-cooperation.”

It is certainly true that Iran pursued “a policy of concealment” for 18 years prior to 2004 and violated its IAEA safeguards agreement by failing to declare nuclear materials and nuclear research. Also, the IAEA has complained about the inadequacy of Iranian cooperation to resolve certain outstanding concerns.

But these transgressions are not as exceptional as Albright would like members of Congress to believe. Iran’s covert nuclear program prior to 2004 was no more heinous than that of some other NPT parties known to have had such programs. Having corrected their safeguards violations, or renounced their covert programs and adhered to the NPT, these other states have not been required to submit to exceptional arrangements.

It’s a pity that Congress turns so often to Albright for testimony on Iran. He is too inclined to over-dramatize Iran’s nuclear transgressions and to proclaim the necessity of making demands of Iran that can only lead to one thing: the failure of negotiations.

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. re: “the president of the Institute for International Science and Security, David Albright, issued a challenge to the six powers”

    Who is David Albright?–from his website
    Albright “cooperated actively with the IAEA Action Team from 1992 until 1997″…From 1990 to 2001, Albright was a member of the Health Advisory Panel appointed by Colorado Governor Roy Romer…. he worked as a Senior Staff Scientist at the Federation of American Scientists and as a member of the research staff of Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Studies. etc etc

    The other members of Albright’s “institute” are a photo analyst and a writer.

    David Abright has in fact been an ongoing unqualified anti-Iran fake expert on nuclear matters of world importance, so who is he to be taken seriously issuing “a challenge to the six powers?”

  2. It’s a pity that Israel can call the shots in the matter, or at least have the bought & paid for congress doing its biding. Where was Israel at when Pakistan/ India/ China/ even any other country not in its immediate area, when they were doing the Nuclear thing[s], be it peaceful or making a bomb? If anything is certain, then it’s time Israel came into the world as a participant, not as something special, with special options only available to it.

  3. The American politicians’ idealization of themselves and the Congress’ sanctimonious stance, labeling Iranians as liars, is deplorable, given that since Roosevelt the US Presidents have left legacies of lies, distortions and massacre. And it is the same United Nations, the same United States and the same Europe that watched in cold blood Saddam’s genocidal war and chemical attacks on Iranian soldiers and civilians, while (specially Reagan and Thatcher) continuing to support him, just as they have supported the Zionist crimes! How dare they speak of ‘verification’, ‘peace’ and ‘security’!

    These colonial imperialist monsters whose own deployment of WMD, from the chemical weapons in WWI to Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Agent Orange in Vietnam to more sophisticated destructive bombs in the Middle East, have left millions dead, millions wounded, deformed and traumatized, and millions displaced! These despised criminals, these post 9/11 paranoid clowns will not be satisfied unless all Iranians hold up their hands to be shot at close range and all military sites are identified and bombed!

    For over 60 years Americans have been interacting with us yet still cannot understand our Revolution and Culture, or our Language, that when we speak of “Mutual Respect” it simply means don’t you dare take us for fools or for your ex-colonial subjects! We are as intelligent as you could ever be. As an experienced nation we compromise for a while (out of politeness) which allows others to take it for granted and cross the line, hence expose their true nature, but then suddenly we surprise them because that is the moment they have lost all respects: that is the end of negotiation and no force can dissuade us – the west should have learned from our nationalization of the Iranian oil, as well as our 8 year heroic defense of our country despite all western support for Saddam. Yes Mr Obama, “Mutual Respect”, please!

  4. There is no way an Additional Protocol can “provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in that State.” Under the AP, IAEA inspectors can visit any facility on a declared site, but for non-declared sites they can only visit (with permission, of course) for the purpose of limited environmental sampling.

    The AP doesn’t automatically give the IAEA access to the entirety of an NNWS party’s territory and all facilities thereon. It really only expands IAEA inspectors’ ability to verify the non-diversion of fissile material from peaceful uses to military uses through an expanded declaration by the safeguarded state, and through shortened notice windows.

    President has continued to threaten Iran with a nuclear attack with “all options on the table” so who could blame Iran for nuclear weapons work.

  5. Speaking of trust&verify stuff, I don’t trust David Albright’s expertise in anything other than blowing hot air. Therefore, I would like to verify why he’s qualified to get two other people like himself in a room, call it an “Institute” as though it’s some kind of a credible organization with a hierarchy, by-laws, and real events making them worth being invited to CNN and the likes to offer “expert advice”. If that’s the case, me and my poker buddies Jorge, Guido, Sal and Tony “The Tooth” Dentano would like to call our poker night gatherings in our garages an Institute because we’re always arguing about world affairs, peppering our discussions with highly descriptive terminology such as “stuff”, “thinkgamagic”, “whatchamacallit” and “capiche?” while addressing each other with respectful accolades like “pumpkin”, “cupcake”, “dolt” and “stupido”. I bet we do a helluva lot more thinking in our think-tank than David’s. Come on, CNN, call us. Tony gives really good interviews.

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