It is widely believed that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allows Iran to stall an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of an undeclared site for up to but not more than 24 days. In fact, inspections could be stalled for months or might never take place at all.
First, according to Annex I, paragraphs 74-78, the so-called 24-day period doesn’t begin until the following has taken place: the IAEA provides Iran with the basis for its concerns and requests clarification, Iran responds and the IAEA determines that its concerns haven’t been resolved. There is no fixed time period for this preliminary step.
The IAEA may then request access and the Joint Commission has 21 days after the request to vote on a resolution. What happens if the Joint Commission’s eight members cannot reach a consensus or don’t support granting the IAEA access? Presumably talks would be extended — or no inspection would take place at all.
If the Joint Commission does endorse IAEA access, Iran is supposed to comply within three days. But what if Iran refuses? There is no automatic ‘snapback’ provision. Rather, this would trigger the “Dispute Resolution Mechanism” in the agreement’s general provisions, paragraphs 36-37. The Joint Commission would then have “15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus.” Realistically, this could drag on for weeks or months. If the Joint Commission cannot resolve the dispute, “any participant could refer the issue to Ministers of Foreign Affairs,” which would have another 15 days, unless talks were extended. Or the matter could be referred to an Advisory Board, which would have another 15 days to issue a non-binding opinion before returning the matter for five days to the Joint Commission. Only then could the U.N. Security Council consider reimposing sanctions.And what happens next? The Security Council would have another 30 days to consider the matter. And then? Given that Iran can walk away from its obligations if any sanctions are reimposed — having already pocketed $150 billion in upfront sanctions relief — the Security Council would most likely back down.
STEPHEN A. SILVER