(CNSNews.com) – Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday played down lawmakers’ concerns about secret “side deals” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying it was “standard practice” for the IAEA and individual countries not to make such documents public.
“This is pretty standard,” he told the Huffington Post Live show, referring to an Iran-IAEA agreement concluded as part of the overall deal reached between Tehran and the P5+1 negotiating partners, but which has not been submitted to the congressional review of that deal.
“This is the way the agency works with countries,” he said. “If countries choose to make the documents public, then the IAEA of course can do so.”
The IAEA-Iran agreement reportedly deals with how Iran will satisfy the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s unresolved questions about past and possibly present nuclear activity that may have military applications. Resolving the so-called “possible military dimension” (PMD) issues is a crucial part of the overall agreement but U.S. lawmakers will now not be able to review how that is to be done.
According to remarks made in an open hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week – and not disputed by Secretary of State John Kerry or Moniz at the time – the secret side deal includes an agreement for the Iranians themselves to provide the IAEA with samples from Parchin, a military complex southeast of Tehran where Iran is suspected to have carried out nuclear-related tests. (Iran has for years refused to allow IAEA inspectors access to Parchin, and there have been signs of apparent cover ups there.)
In explaining the confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran, Moniz recalled a similar one between the agency and South Africa in the early 1990s.
“A good example would be, the IAEA went through the whole dismantling of the South African program a few decades ago, and those documents remain confidential,” he said.
(South Africa’s white minority government had a nuclear weapons capability, and dismantled its bombs with IAEA certification; Iran by contrast claims not to have any military component to its nuclear energy program.)
Moniz reiterated that the administration does not have the Iran-IAEA documents either.
“I can assure you, and I’ve assured the Congress, that we also are not in possession of those documents. But we have confidence that the IAEA of course has to maintain the integrity of its reputation, the integrity of the process …” he said.
Iranians to collect their own samples from suspect site?
During last Thursday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) raised the alleged Parchin provision in the secret side deal, and ridiculed the notion that the Iranians would be trusted to provide samples themselves.
“What you guys agreed to,” he told Kerry, Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew,” was, we can’t even take samples there. The IAEA can’t take samples there. They [the Iranians] are going to be able to test by themselves. Even the NFL wouldn’t go along with this!”
“How in the world can you have a nation like Iran doing their own testing?” Risch asked. “This is absolutely ludicrous.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) appeared stunned.
“Is it true that the Iranians are going to be able to take the samples, as Sen. Risch said?” he asked Kerry. “Because chain of custody means nothing if at the very beginning what you’re given is chosen and derived by the perpetrator.”
Kerry pointed out that “that is a classified component of this – it’s supposed to be discussed in a classified session. We’re perfectly prepared to fully brief you in classified session with respect to what will happen.”
“It is part of a confidential agreement between the IAEA and Iran as to how they do that,” he said. “The IAEA has said that they are satisfied, that they will be able to do this in a way that does not compromise their needs, and that adequately gets the answers that they need.”
Menendez told Kerry that if it was true that Iran would provide the IAEA with the Parchin samples, “that would be the equivalent of the fox guarding the chicken coop.”
On July 14 the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – announced it had reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran over its nuclear program.
On the same day, Iran and the IAEA signed a document called the “roadmap for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program.”
In a joint statement at the time, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano and Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization president Ali Akhbar Salehi referred, without elaboration, to “a separate arrangement that would allow them to address the remaining outstanding issues,” as well as “another separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.”
Lawmakers are unhappy that the administration did not provide Congress with the Iran-IAEA documents, along with the other documentation relating to the JCPOA.
Bipartisan legislation signed by President Obama last May requires the administration to provide Congress with the JCPOA itself, plus “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) have sent a letter to Obama instructing him to submit the side deals to Congress in line with the legislation.
“The law is clear,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “But the administration has not submitted the side agreements between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran to the Senate, withholding the text from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”
“Congress cannot properly carry out its obligation to the American people until the administration fulfills its legal obligation to the American people, and to Congress,” he said. “We’re calling on the administration to do so immediately.”
The administration disputes that the Iran-IAEA documents constitute side agreements that are being kept secret.
“Congress has what we have, and what’s being asked for here are IAEA documents or material that is not in our possession,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
“There’s no side deals; there’s no secret deals, between Iran and the IAEA, that the P5+1 has not been briefed on in detail.”
Kirby added that administration experts “are familiar and comfortable with the contents” of the Iran-IAEA agreement.