UPDATE: Some critics have questioned elements of the Associated Press story about the inspection system in Iran. Click here for an analysis of the controversy surrounding the AP story.
Republicans are outraged following the report of a bargain between the U.N. atomic watchdog and Iran that lets Tehran use its own inspectors to investigate a site suspected of developing nuclear arms.
Disclosure of the agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran concerning the Parchin facility, a copy of which was viewed by the Associated Press, was seized on by critics of the larger nuclear framework to reinforce their argument that the deal doesn’t do enough to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the U.N. in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a statement. “This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement."
House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce (R-CA) said, “International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period. The standard of 'anywhere, anytime' inspections -- so critical to a viable agreement -- has dropped to ‘when Iran wants, where Iran wants, on Iran’s terms.’”
Republican presidential hopefuls also pounced on the revelation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subpanel that funds U.S. international efforts, doubled-down on a previous vow to block funding for the IAEA until Congress gets access to the agency’s so-called “side deals” with Iran.
“Iran deal is a farce. Nuclear inspections of state sponsors of terrorism can’t work on the honor system,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.
The existence of “side deals” between the IAEA and Iran has become a major rallying point for the Iran deal’s opponents, mainly congressional Republicans. Congress will vote to approve or disapprove the deal next month and GOP members hope to gin up so much animosity toward the agreement that Democrats join them in overriding an expected veto by President Obama.
The Parchin pact was worked out exclusively between the IAEA and Iran. The U.S. and the five other Western powers that negotiated the broader nuclear arrangement were only briefed on it by the IAEA.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano visited Capitol Hill earlier this month and told lawmakers he could not share the confidential bargain, reportedly labeled “secret arrangement II,” with them.
The Parchin installation was once believed to be used by Iran’s military as a site to develop nuclear weapons and associated technology; however Tehran has successfully stonewalled any IAEA examination of the facility.
The broader nuclear deal’s critics now have fresh ammunition to argue that the side bargain let’s Iran off the hook to come clean about its past work and conceal just how far along its weapons effort truly was.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration brushed off concerns that the IAEA wouldn’t be able to investigate Iran’s alleged attempts to build a nuclear weapon under the proposed agreement.
“We are confident in the agency's technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran's former program,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with arrangements, which are unique to the agency's investigation of Iran's historical activities.”
The timing of the disclosure marks a speed-bump for the White House as it works to garner support for the deal.
On Tuesday, Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), became the second Senate Democratic to come out against the agreement, joining Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and almost the entire Republican caucus, in opposition.
But any momentum from Menendez’s announcement was blunted hours later when Rhode Island Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) and Jack Reed (D), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they would back the deal.
On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN), another Armed Services panel member, and Sen. Ed Markey (MA), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drove the deal’s total number of supporters to 25.
“While I share the concerns expressed by the agreement’s critics about what may happen 10, 15, or 20 years from now, I cannot in good conscience take action that would shift the potential risks of 2026 and 2031 to 2016,” Donnelly said in a statement.
"With or without this deal, the day may come when we are left with no alternative but to take military action to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold …. I owe it to the men and women of our Armed Forces and to the people of Indiana to have exhausted every other option to stop Iran before we would consider putting any of our service members in harm’s way,” he added.