IAEA Inspections Will Cost American Taxpayers, May Be Of Little Benefit

Estimates for the cost of the inspections program run to $3 million a month, most of which American taxpayers would have to cover.  The IAEA has already backed down to Iranian threats, American citizens may not be on the inspections teams, and the nations who can provide inspectors are interested in seeing no evil.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is going to need a major increase in its budget.  Washington think tank The Bipartisan Policy Center released an estimate of the cost of the prospective IAEA inspections program in Iran under the deal that runs to $3 million a month more than current IAEA budgets support.  The IAEA would need to detail inspectors to 18 locations associated with the nuclear program, as well as 9 hospitals that will be handling radioactive isotopes, under the plan.  It would not have access to military sites according to Iranian officials, who have so far succeeded in denying the IAEA access to such sites.

This comes at a time when the IAEA is described as “cash-strapped” and facing Congressional skepticism about the scope of its role.  As key Senators Bob Corker and Robert Menendez came out against the deal, Senator Lindsey Graham has promised to hold up the IAEA’s budget until the text of the secret side deals is made available to Congress.  “I’m not for a side deal that I can’t look at,” said Graham.”And this is a very clever thing they did. The Iranians opposed anytime, anywhere inspections of their military facilities. We said early on that if you can’t determine the military dimensions of a program, then it’s not a good deal. How do you know if it’s a good deal or not? …  I betcha dollar if you looked at it, it would be a joke.”

The IAEA has an existing budget of $386 million a year, of which $145 million is devoted to nuclear inspections in nations including Iran.  The increase of $50 annually would therefore represent a third again increase to the inspections budget.  The contribution Graham is holding up is $88 million, more than a fifth of the total budget for the agency’s existing activities.  It is unlikely that the IAEA could scavenge that amount from its other activities in the event that the US Congress were to withhold its contribution.

On the other hand, the side deals between the IAEA and Iran have a provision that forbids them from being made known to any American.  United States Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged having accepted this provision, and that neither he nor any American official has seen the deals his team agreed to accept as binding.  Senator Graham’s demand for access to them thus creates a significant diplomatic quandary.  Unless the Senator backs down or is defeated in some parliamentary maneuver, the IAEA will have to violate the terms of its agreement with Iran in order to obtain the money necessary to perform whatever its duties are under the deal.

It is possible that non-American powers might pony up the money in order to resolve this impasse.  However, Russian officials seem to be moving ahead with technical violations of the sanctions even now, such as by selling new missiles to Iran over US objections and allowing the travel of Qassem Soleimani to Moscow in spite of a UN Security Council travel ban that Russia itself had signed off on.  Meanwhile, the European Union powers, as well as Japan, are busily signing investment contracts with Iran that will sharply increase their financial stake in not seeing the sanctions restored.  One easy way to make sure that the sanctions do not ‘snap back’ is to disable the inspections regime that might provide evidence of a violation by Iran.  Meanwhile, reports indicate that the IAEA has already backed down to Iran in the face of threats aimed at IAEA director general Yukiya Amano.

Should the deal pass, then, it will probably fall to the Congress to fund the additional inspections.  However, the inspectors for which the American Congress will be paying will not be allowed to be Americans under the terms of the deal.  Indeed, not only will inspectors have to come from countries with normalized relations with Iran, Iran has reserved the right to have its spy agency approve each IAEA inspector before they can join the teams.  Congress will end up having to pay the cost in order to ensure any inspections take place, but there will be no guarantee that the inspectors will do much to ensure that Iran keeps its end of the bargain.