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December 2, 2004
UN Lacks Authority For Comprehensive Iran Inspections Regime

In a blow to the entire concept of inspections regimes, UN diplomats admitted to Reuters that the UN lacks any authority to inspect areas not explicitly declared by Iran as nuclear sites. While nations collect intelligence detailing Iranian nuclear activities at new locations and the stripping of those facilities that have been declared by Iran, the UN can do little but ask Iran for permission to see for themselves:

Inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog would like to visit a secret military site in Iran that an exile group said was a nuclear weapons site, but they lack the legal authority to go there, U.N. diplomats told Reuters. ...

The New York Times reported Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes satellite photographs show that high explosives are being tested and that procurement records show equipment has been bought that can be used for making bomb-grade uranium, citing unnamed diplomats. The intelligence came from several sources, including nations that are members of the IAEA, the Times reported.

But the military sites the inspectors would like to inspect -- the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran and Lavizan II in northeastern Tehran -- are legally off limits to the IAEA, which only has the right to monitor civilian nuclear programs.

"The IAEA simply has no authority to go to sites that are not declared nuclear sites," a diplomat close to the IAEA inspection process told Reuters. He said that the IAEA had not asked to inspect Lavizan II, although they would like to.

This demonstrates the problem with inspection regimes in general: they only work when confirming compliance by a nation which disarms willingly. Unless the UN implements an inspections regime in Lichtenstein or The Vatican, nations are too large for inspectors to confirm disarmament with any confidence under existing rules. Saddam played this shell game with the UN inspectors for years, and the UNSCOM teams had more latitude than the IAEA has with Iran. If anyone feels safer because the IAEA has the right to inspect only those facilities that the Iranian mullahs designated as nuclear research sites, raise your hand.

No one? No one?

Inspections work in Libya because Libya wants to show that they've disarmed, and for good reason. Moammar Gaddafi saw what happened when the Anglo-American coalition lost patience with Saddam and decided to conduct final inspections in force. The Western nations, prior to that, had spent the better part of two decades trying to convince Gaddafi to renounce terrorism and drop development of WMD, but he only took it seriously when he saw the consequences of further defiance: getting pulled out of a spider hole is not Gaddafi's retirement plan.

If the West wants to convince the Iranians to comply with the nonproliferation treaty, then the EU has to step aside and allow the process to move quickly through the rest of the nonproductive steps -- like the UNSC -- so that the threat of action can be made clear to the mullahcracy. Just as in Iraq, the delay only allows Iran to build its defenses and stockpile its weapons. Given the US and Israeli viewpoint that Iran cannot be allowed to go nuclear, allowing Iran to stall the West only makes war more likely, not less.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 2, 2004 6:26 AM

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