French negotiators have stated outright that a deal is unlikely within that timeframe, and Iranian lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi has claimed that the talks are in fact not bound by their deadline at all.
Amano’s latest remarks may be regarded both as questioning the practicality of a tight deadline and also raising additional questions about whether an agreement is reachable at the current stage. The UN agency head said that the process of making a solid conclusion as to whether or not Iran has given up its nuclear weapons ambitions would require a long review process consisting of “years and years” of inspection and analysis. Amano added that it would be necessary for Iran to accept the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in order to give inspectors full access to the country’s facilities.
Together these remarks suggest that even under the best circumstances following a nuclear agreement, the end of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon may not be verifiable until long after the period of time in which the regime is expected to be able to finish research and development on such a weapon. The P5+1 discussions are explicitly aimed at reducing Iran’s “breakout time” for a nuclear weapon from several weeks to approximately one year.
In addition, any deal that is reachable by the June 30 deadline is unlikely to produce the best circumstances from the perspective of the IAEA or the Western negotiating powers. Iran has ostensibly agreed to implement the Additional Protocol, but in actuality the regime has imposed strict limits on this implementation which violate the spirit of the provision.
On Monday, Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had joined a long list of high-ranking officials who have categorically rejected the prospect of international inspections of Iran’s military sites. Khamenei himself has stated that no foreign nationals will ever be granted access to such sites or be allowed to interview, or “interrogate,” Iranian nuclear scientists.
The obstruction of military sites is considered a non-starter for many critics of the negotiations, particularly those who have followed the intelligence reports released throughout the process by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The group has elaborately described the overlap between Iran’s military personnel and its supposedly civilian nuclear program, suggesting that the two are fundamentally inseparable and that the Islamic Republic’s military programs are capable of utilizing the full range of Iran’s nuclear research and infrastructure.
The NCRI has also reported on foreign collaboration with Iran’s nuclear work – something that was highlighted by the Washington Examiner on Monday when it reported that North Korea has helped Iran to greatly expand the range of its ballistic missiles, which could be used to deliver a nuclear payload to Israel, Europe, or even the United States.
The Examiner quotes Representative Ron DeSantis, R.-Fla as saying that the nuclear agreement can be expected to meet stiff resistance in the US Congress in part because of the Obama administration’s concession to Iranian demands that the ballistic missile issue be taken off the table altogether. Concessions on such topics as access to military sites will only increase opposition to the deal, not only among US lawmakers but also in Europe.
The Times of Israel reports that on Monday the European Union released a statement saying that Iran would have to begin cooperating with the IAEA probe into the past nuclear dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, and that this would be “essential” to any agreement with the P5+1. That probe has been ongoing since P5+1 negotiations began at the start of 2014, but Iran has provided significant responses to only one of 12 key points, raising repeated criticisms from Amano and other officials.
The EU’s insistence upon resolution of this and other issues is a further threat to the June 30 deadline and perhaps to the deal in general. But former US ambassador Robert Joseph said in an online talk last month that the main obstacle to a final agreement is whether Iran can “take yes for an answer” in light of concessions being offered by the Obama administration.
The Tower made a similar statement on Monday when it reported that the US appeared to be downplaying evidence of Iran’s non-compliance with the terms of the interim nuclear agreement, in order to maintain support for the negotiations. Nevertheless, The Tower and other critical news sources have exposed this evidence, including the fact that Iran has not yet turned its existing supplies of enriched uranium into an oxide form.
These minor cheats, together with Iran’s high demands and lack of acceptance of the Additional Protocol all contribute to doubts about whether a nuclear agreement can reach an internationally agreed-upon standard for verification in the remaining three weeks before the deadline.