- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2015

The chief of the U.N. nuclear agency acknowledged Monday that samples used to determine whether Iran tried to develop a nuclear weapon were collected by the Iranians instead of agency investigators, touching off a fresh dispute between congressional Republicans and the White House over weaknesses in the administration’s deal with Tehran.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iranians carried out that part of the investigation at Parchin, where the agency suspects that explosive triggers for nuclear weapons might have been tested in the past. He insisted that the probe stands up to strict agency standards.

Republican lawmakers said the development illustrates flaws in the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Tehran by allowing the Iranians essentially to police themselves through a secret side agreement with the IAEA.

“This report appears to confirm our grave concern that the Iran-IAEA side agreements permit Tehran to self-inspect its own nuclear sites,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Rep. Peter J. Roskam of Illinois and Rep. Lee M. Zeldin of New York. “Without access to these documents it’s impossible to verify that necessary mechanisms are in place to ensure Iran will abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

But the White House hailed the report from the United Nations as proof that its agreement with Iran is working as intended.

“It’s incredibly important that these inspections live up to the standards that are established by the international impartial nuclear experts at the IAEA,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “When it comes to the inspections that were conducted at the Parchin military facility over the weekend, the IAEA has said that these inspections were consistent with their standards.”

IAEA inspectors usually conduct the sampling of soil, air or dust from equipment, but Mr. Amano confirmed that Iranians carried out that part of the investigation at Parchin.

Diplomats say Iran insisted on the compromise as a condition for any inspection of Parchin.

Deputy IAEA Director General Tero Varjoranta said countries have been allowed to use their own nationals to conduct sampling in more than 40 instances and that the process is only a small part of a rigid regimen established by the agency to make sure there is no violation.

He said the criteria at Parchin included invasive monitoring by video and still cameras while the sampling took place, GPS tracking of the sampling process, IAEA agreement on where the samples were to be taken, review by unspecified peers of the inspection process, risk assessment and strict observance to make sure procedures were followed step by step.

“We feel fully confident that the process and the result so far are fully in line with our safeguards practices,” said Mr. Varjoranta, standing next to Mr. Amano at a Vienna news conference.

Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director general, described Iran as a particularly sensitive case. He said he knew of no other instance in which a country under investigation for suspected attempts to make nuclear weapons was permitted to use its own personnel to collect environmental samples.

Iran’s atomic energy agency spokesman, Behrouz Kalmandi, said IAEA inspectors were not physically present during the sampling. But Mr. Amano said the procedure met strict agency criteria to ensure “the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples.”

Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Roskam and Mr. Zeldin said the lack of international inspectors at the site shows why the U.S. should keep economic sanctions against Iran in place “until the president complies with the law and provides the side agreements to Congress.”

Mr. Earnest said the Parchin inspection “certainly disproves the claims of our critics who suggested that Iran would be conducting self-inspections. That obviously is not true.”

He added that “there also was some concern and some claims made by critics of the deal that the IAEA would not have access to military sites. The fact is, the director general of the IAEA was at a prominent Iranian military site over the weekend.”

As the agreement is implemented further, he said, “we’ll have many future opportunities to illustrate how the critics and warnings of many of those who opposed the Iran deal are eventually disproven.”

Mr. Amano spoke a day after he was taken on what Iranian media described as a ceremonial tour of the military site. He told reporters in Vienna that he was able to enter a building that the agency had been observing via satellite and saw signs of “recent renovation work.”

He appeared to be referring to the building where the agency suspects weapons experiments have been conducted. The agency has frequently said that subsequent renovation work at and near the building could hamper the IAEA probe, a position Mr. Amano reiterated Monday.

His one-day visit to Iran is part of an assessment due in December that will feed into the nuclear deal reached in July between Tehran and six world powers and will help to determine whether sanctions will be lifted.

Iran denies it has ever sought nuclear weapons and insists Parchin is a conventional military site. Tehran has refused to allow inspections of its military sites as part of the nuclear deal, saying it fears foreign espionage.

The congressional review period for the nuclear deal ended last week, when Democrats blocked Republican efforts to get a resolution disapproving of the Iran deal to Mr. Obama’s desk.

Western nations have long suspected Iran’s nuclear program has a secret military dimension. Iran insists the program is entirely devoted to peaceful purposes such as power generation and cancer treatment.

Under the July agreement, Iran would curb its nuclear activities and submit to inspections in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

A special Iranian parliamentary committee is reviewing the deal to prepare a report for lawmakers. Late Sunday, a member of the committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, predicted that parliament would approve the deal.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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