Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images

Iran inspection ‘leak’ is part of anti-agreement spin cycle

Analysis: Media reports misread or misunderstood a document ostensibly revealing that Iran will inspect itself

August is a time marked by intense heat and summer theater, and the latest show features an unnecessary controversy over the Iran nuclear agreement. 

This week’s drama began when The Associated Press ran a story based on an alleged confidential document detailing Iranian and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) terms for inspections at Parchin, a controversial military site. The document purportedly showed that Iran would conduct its own inspections. The idea of the fox guarding the henhouse lit up social media, and opponents of the larger nuclear agreement demanded that Congress reject the deal.

For now, let’s set aside that at least one former IAEA official has suggested that the document is a fake and that after the initial report the head of the IAEA called it a misrepresentation. The reporter went back to his source and is supposed to have transcribed the document, which AP subsequently published.

Let’s assume the document is real and instead focus on two questions: What does the document actually say? And what does this controversy portend for the next few weeks?

Whether the document is fake or authentic, it does not say what the reporter initially claimed. It does not say that IAEA will be denied access to Parchin or that Iran will, on its own, collect environmental samples. It specifies very little about how the process is to be conducted. It is pretty clear that this document, whatever it is, is a draft of a larger, uncompleted document.

More important, critics of the deal have used the document to suggest that Iran would be doing its own verification. That is simply inaccurate. Whatever arrangements are made for inspecting this facility, they have nothing to do with verifying the agreement. The facility in question relates to an investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities 20 years ago, when it is alleged to have had a nuclear weapons program. By contrast, under the agreement, Iran’s current sensitive nuclear facilities will be under virtually continuous video and electronic monitoring and subject to daily access by IAEA inspectors.

Since the nuclear agreement was finalized in early July, there has been a steady stream of false claims meant to undermine support for it. One week, for example, there was speculation that after 10 years, Iran could restart its weapons program. But the agreement — and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory — bars Iran from ever seeking a nuclear weapon and provides for inspections to continue in perpetuity.

Then there was the charge that the IAEA and Iran had secret side deals. This is a misrepresentation and an ironic one, at that. The critics who make this charge are the very same people who two months ago defended the IAEA and insisted that it be allowed to investigate Iran’s nuclear past. Without that, they said, there could be no agreement. But now that the IAEA and Iran have reached agreement on mechanisms for doing what they demanded, the critics who said the IAEA was so important have flipped and now accuse the agency is of being in cahoots with Tehran.

And now an ostensibly leaked document purportedly shows that the IAEA has agreed to let Iran do its own inspections — even if that is not what it actually says. This leak is part of a pattern likely to intensify over the next several weeks in the run-up to a congressional vote on the larger nuclear agreement: Somebody will make an outrageous claim, which will drive the news cycle for 24 hours until it’s shown to be false. But by then, the damage will be done. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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