Both the executive and legislative branches are trumpeting significant, though seemingly unrelated, achievements. On Jan. 16, Congress passed a bipartisan $1.1 trillion omnibus bill to fund the government in 2014. The White House, on the other hand, is pleased that the interim deal it, together with international partners, has reached with Iran went into effect on January 20. These developments are more connected than they may seem—ensuring that Iran does not cheat on its deal will require the allocation of additional funds for enhanced inspections.
Last November, the United States, in conjunction with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, reached an agreement with Iran, known as the “Joint Plan of Action.” With Iran coming close to being able to develop an undetectable nuclear weapons capability, the purpose of the deal was to slow Tehran’s nuclear progress in order to buy time to find a comprehensive diplomatic solution. The deal requires Iran to halt or reduce some elements of its nuclear program, while the U.S. and its partners unfreeze some Iranian assets and relax certain sanctions in return.
Both sides agree on the importance of preventing a nuclear Iran, but their disagreement over tactics threatens to overshadow the one relatively easy step that everyone should be able to support: giving international inspectors the resources they need to ensure Iran does not cheat.
One of the most important provisions of the JPA grants International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors expanded access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to verify that it is living up to the terms of the deal. Prior to the deal, inspectors visited the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow about once a week, and other sites less often. Now, the deal grants inspectors daily access to Natanz and Fordow as well as “managed access” to other facilities the IAEA had not previously been able to inspect. These include the Arak heavy water reactor, uranium mines and mills, as well as centrifuge production facilities.
This provision is critical for two reasons. First, Iran has freely confessed to taking advantage of a prior deal it struck with European countries in 2003 to advance its nuclear program. As the then Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, and current president, Hassan Rouhani put it, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” Enhanced IAEA inspections are needed to detect whether Tehran is pulling the same trick again and exploiting the “calm environment” created by the JPA.
Second, Iran’s nuclear program is so far advanced that any progress it would make now could place it perilously close to a nuclear weapons capability. Bipartisan Policy Center estimates suggest Iran could currently produce enough weapons grade uranium for a nuclear device in as little as five weeks. The terms of the JPA would delay that timeframe. But if instead of curtailing its program, Iran cheated and continued it, after six months it could be within a month of reaching nuclear weapons capability. At that point, with sanctions eased and pressure relaxed, the U.S. and its partners would have limited options remaining for preventing a nuclear Iran. Enhanced inspections are critical to forestalling such a scenario.
The problem is that the IAEA does not have adequate resources to carry out the inspections provided for by the interim deal. The IAEA expected to spend almost $20 million on its inspections in Iran this year. But given the greater access provided for by the JPA—increasing inspections at Natanz and Fordow fivefold and the total number of inspected facilities by nearly a third—we estimate that its workload will increase by about 50 percent, costing the IAEA an additional $9 million that it does not have in its budget.
The White House and Capitol Hill should put aside their disagreements on how to negotiate with Iran, and Democrats and Republicans should capitalize on their bipartisan budget success to work together find the money in the new budget to fund these enhanced inspections. Prospects for a negotiated solution will be diminished if we do not even have the resources to verify that Iran is keeping to the promises it already has made.
Misztal is acting director of Foreign Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Rademaker, a senior adviser at BPC and principal at the Podesta Group, formerly served as assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation.