In a lengthy interview, Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s former top official for monitoring nuclear proliferation, expressed a range of concerns about the deal taking shape, warned of Iran’s history of deception, and also cautioned that the one-year framework for nuclear breakout pushed by the Obama administration might leave insufficient time for an international reaction to violations of the agreement.
Heinonen said that the framework agreement, announced in Lausanne, Switzerland, last Thursday, leaves a number of key concerns unanswered. Although it appears to be more robust than previous nuclear agreements, he said missteps could result in a repeat of the outcome that the non-proliferation regime suffered when North Korea violated the terms of an agreement and rushed toward a nuclear bomb.
Heinonen said the current framework also lacks an emphasis on Iran coming clean about its entire nuclear program heretofore, including the actual number of centrifuges in operation. Such information, Heinonen says, is of central importance to monitors’ ability to enforce and monitor the current nuclear program.
“I think that this whole exercise should begin with a full complete declaration from Iran about its nuclear program,” he said. “Many things have changed since 2003 when Iran made its previous statement.”
“This will have an impact on the region. Saudi Arabia has indicated that whatever Iran will get, they will get too,” Heinonen warned.
Based on his own prior experience in Iran and elsewhere, Heinonen stressed that there must be short-notice visits to sites other than Natanz during which inspectors must do more than just “checking off a list” that they have visited.
What’s needed, he said, “is to make a model for this kind of access – to account for security concerns and safety concerns for the inspectors – and if Iran immediately doesn’t follow it, it is in non-compliance and there is a quick response.”
The question of this quick response also concerns Heinonen, who said he was not certain that the much-discussed one-year time to breakout will give the international community enough time to respond effectively.
He believes that if Iran tries to engage in covert nuclear development, the reaction time of the international community could be too slow – and the so-called “snapback” of sanctions could take too long to register an impact.
In addition, Heinonen is worried about the international dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, including what he described as a past willingness to outsource aspects of it to other countries, such as North Korea. “You can outsource,” he said. “We will be monitoring the uranium mines, but they can always get yellowcake from somewhere else.”
Heinonen, who was involved in the IAEA monitoring of North Korea, recalled that inspectors were frustrated because while they had limited access to nuclear facilities, they suspected – or even knew – that nuclear materials were being hidden at other sites. The result was that when the so-called Hermit Kingdom decided to sprint for a bomb and violate its negotiated agreements regarding its nuclear program, it could reach breakout more quickly.
The same thing, Heinonen said, could happen in Iran if monitoring protocols are not carefully written and stringently enforced. Iran, he warned, “has a history of deception.”
“I think that three months to iron out all these details is a short time. Now we have a not-very-detailed outline that should be turned into a very precise agreement. I will be a challenge for the technical people and for the political people. But it should not get to the situation that the deal is more important than the outcome.”
Republican US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on Monday criticized the landmark deal on Iran’s nuclear program, confirming that lawmakers opposed to the pact planned a formal response to the agreement.
Meanwhile, an Israeli official reportedly said Jerusalem would push for the passage of controversial Republican legislation that could potentially sink the nuclear deal.
“The administration needs to explain to the Congress and the American people why an interim agreement should result in reduced pressure on the world’s leading state sponsor of terror,” McConnell said in a statement following last week’s marathon talks.
McConnell repeated his pledge to examine legislation proposed by Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez, which requires any deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions to be reviewed by Congress.
The Corker-Menendez bill would oblige President Barack Obama to give lawmakers 60 days to examine, and possibly block, a nuclear deal.
Obama has vowed to veto the bill in its current form, as well as a separate bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran.
Republicans however are united behind the strategy of seeking to thwart an agreement, and have also won support from a sizable number of Democrats.
The powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to meet on April 14 to consider the bill, paving the way for its consideration by the full Senate before heading to the House of Representatives, also Republican-controlled.
“Under no terms should the administration suspend sanctions, nor should the United Nations remove sanctions, until the Iranians reveal all aspects of the possible military dimensions of its previous research,” McConnell added in his statement.
It also issued a document posing 10 questions that it said underlined “the extent of the irresponsible concessions given to Iran” in the agreement, and that it claimed made clear “how dangerous the framework is for Israel, the region and the world.
Hours after Israel listed demands for improvements to the deal with Iran that would render it more acceptable, a top adviser to President Barack Obama made clear that the final agreement would not be markedly more stringent than the framework agreed in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 2 news, Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, dismissed the notion — relentlessly asserted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — that a better deal was attainable.
The deal as it now stands meets the US’s “core objectives,” he said to Channel 2.
“We believe that this is the best deal that can emerge from these negotiations,” he echoed, in a second interview, to Channel 10.
Rhodes denied that the US was naive in its dealings with Iran, which has relentlessly called for the destruction of America and Israel, saying: “We don’t think they’re going to become the local nice guy in any way.”
Watching the interview in the Channel 2 studio, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon responded dryly: “It’s not that we don’t believe the White House. We don’t believe the Iranians.” Ya’alon called the deal “a historic mistake.”
The head of the terror group also defended his decision to strike Israel from Lebanese territory in a retaliatory attack in January, saying the move was meant to signal a change in the rules of engagement.
“Iran will become richer and wealthier and will also become more influential” under the deal reached last week, Nasrallah said in a wide ranging live interview to Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, according to a translation provided by Beirut news outlet The Daily Star. “This will also reinforce the position of its allies.”
Nasrallah justified his decision to attack Israel from Lebanese territory following a January Israeli strike on a Hezbollah cell operating from the Golan Heights.
The Lebanese Shiite-group chief noted that although he had the means to strike back at Israel from Syrian territory, he decided to attack directly from Lebanon, in order to “send a message,” to Israel.
“Israel is an enemy that lacks compassion in its heart. We wanted to make it clear that a new situation has emerged where there are no rules of engagement,” Nasrallah said, in remarks translated by Israel’s Ynet news.