Former nuclear watchdog: IAEA should offer Iran “grace period” for disclosures, extended access

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Last month, Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), proposed a solution to one of the trickiest parts of the Iran nuclear diplomacy puzzle. In short, why should Iran confess alleged past research on suspected military dimensions of its nuclear program to the IAEA, if doing so will almost certainly lead, at this stage, to new sanctions, punitive measures and isolation?

Goldschmidt’s idea, outlined in a paper and speech to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Estonia last month, would make sense to any US defense attorney or prosecutor: essentially, offer Iran a “grace period” to confess to the IAEA, and the disclosures acknowledged would not be punished.

“On the contrary, Iran should be assured that it will be praised for its cooperation with the IAEA,” Goldschmidt wrote, as was the case for Libya after it acknowledged a nuclear weapons program in 2004. “Without such a grace period, it is unlikely that Iran would fully cooperate with the IAEA or voluntarily declare any past violations.”

(Should evidence later emerge that it had withheld information, that would be cause for additional sanctions, however, the other part of Goldschmidt’s suggestion goes.)

The “grace period,” Goldschmidt argues, should be granted to Iran as soon as it formally agrees to offer extended access rights to IAEA inspectors at least for a period of time.

The logic of such an arrangement is multiple: it incentivizes Iran to come clean, offers it a pathway in from the cold if it is interested. It could also help rebuild confidence and restore damaged relations between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog agency.

“Such disclosures could be very beneficial for confidence building,” Goldschmidt wrote. “If Iran were to admit that it had been working towards becoming a nuclear threshold state and has undertaken some weaponization activities in the past, it would help persuade the international community that this time, Tehran has indeed opted for full cooperation and transparency.”

The arrangement would also overcome a weakness inherent to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said.

“Any state can become a nuclear threshold state”—which he defined as a country which has the capacity to build one or more nuclear devices in less than one year—“without being in breach of the NPT,” the former IAEA safeguards chief said in a telephone interview from Brussels Tuesday.

“This is a real problem because a world with many more nuclear threshold states will be extremely unstable,” he said. “Without good intelligence information and IAEA broad access to locations, relevant persons and documents, it will be impossible to detect in time when a threshold state has decided to actually weaponize.”

Even “implementing the Additional Protocol on a voluntary ‘on and off’ basis as Iran has done in the past is not a satisfactory confidence building measure,” said Goldschmidt, who is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

What’s been the reaction to his paper so far?  “It’s gotten almost no feedback,” he said—although the paper has been circulating on the Twitter feeds of Washington’s circles of Iran watchers and non proliferation experts.

Perhaps another sign that the international diplomatic strategy for how to bring Iran back into the fold hasn’t been thought out much beyond getting to the next meeting. Diplomats from the six-nation P5+1 negotiating group and Iran gather in Moscow this weekend for the next round of nuclear talks.

(Photo: Herman Nackaerts (L), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, and Iran’s IAEA ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh attend a news conference after talks at the U.N. headquarters in Vienna June 8, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer.)