The AP Parchin story’s post-mortem

At “War on the Rocks,” Cheryl Rofer, a former chemist at Los Alamos, offers another thorough debunking of that shady AP Parchin story from last week. She argues that the premise of AP reporter George Jahn’s piece, that IAEA inspectors won’t be allowed on site and this is Bad because Iranian technicians will inevitably cheat when collecting site samples, is simply wrong:

It doesn’t matter whose hands do the sampling. What matters is the verifiability of the sampling, laid out by the sampling and analysis plans as well as the chain of custody.  The IAEA’s practice is to prepare sampling kits containing the necessary equipment, oversee the sampling, and be responsible for the chain of custody.

If the IAEA does not have direct access to the site or buildings, how can it oversee the process?

Verification experts, armed with cameras and ingenuity, have come up with ways to observe from a distance. On the day of the activity, they might start with a shopping trip that includes  IAEA and Iranian personnel. The group goes to a camera store and buys shrink-wrapped memory cards for the still and video cameras. Then they go to, say, a handicrafts store and buy a small and unique object, maybe a toy. The memory cards are inserted into the cameras in the presence of both groups, and the cameras are sealed with a tamper-indicating seal. Every photograph must include the unique toy.

IAEA personnel then go with Iranian personnel to the closest point to the site that Iran allows. IAEA personnel remain there while the Iranians go to the building or soil sampling site. Real-time video may be sent out to the IAEA monitors from the cameras, along with GPS data to make sure samples are being taken in the correct places. Iran completes the activity and hands the samples and cameras to the IAEA, who check the seals. The group may then convene in a meeting room to review the photos or video to make sure they are as expected, with the unique toy ever present.

Rofer reiterates that there are major questions regarding the supposed “transcript” that Jahn made of the supposed “draft agreement” that he saw, and also argues that, ultimately, a site visit at Parchin just isn’t as big a deal as the Bomb Bomb Iran folks are making it out to be:

Advocates of a full disclosure of all of Iran’s weapons-related activities say that it would help us to know what Iran might do in the future. This is doubtful. It has been 12 years since the weapons program is thought to have ended. Diagnostic equipment, the way Iran runs its programs, and staff have changed. For many reasons, Iran would change the ways it does things if it reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. In this case, the past tells us little about the future. And those advocates might just be looking for another way to condemn Iran.

Other countries have given up nuclear weapons programs without full disclosure, and they have kept to their nonproliferation obligations. South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden, and Switzerland all had nuclear weapons programs at one time and have given them up. Intensive interactions of the P5+1 nations and the IAEA with Iran under the JCPOA will give more insight into Iran’s past. Most importantly, the JCPOA will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program now and in the next decade or two.

This is not the first time that Jahn has allowed himself to get played (I’m being charitable here and assuming naivete rather than bias on his part) by opponents of an Iran deal. Hopefully people will remember his track record the next time he delivers some half-formed fear-mongered piece to his readers.

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