Iran Snap Nuclear Inspections Jump as Tensions With U.S. Rise

(Bloomberg) -- Snap inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities jumped last year, underscoring the wide-reaching ability of international monitors to access potential sites that could feed clandestine research.

The finding was included in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest Safeguards Implementation Report, which is circulating among nuclear-security officials as the specter of another Middle Eastern conflict rises. Europe in particular has found itself squeezed between hostile governments in Washington and Tehran after the U.S. left the nuclear deal and slapped sanctions on Iran.

According to a copy of the restricted report published this week and obtained by Bloomberg News, inspectors deployed in Iran conducted a record number of so-called complementary accesses for a third year running in 2018. Almost 400 inspectors spent some 1,867 person-days combing Iranian sites and triggered more than three surprise visits a month.

“These snap inspections are a reflection of the concern, particularly among Europeans, that Iran would ramp up nuclear work in a clandestine fashion after the U.S. left the nuclear deal,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Iran Snap Nuclear Inspections Jump as Tensions With U.S. Rise

Iran on Wednesday warned that it would abandon some elements of the 2015 accord if European nations failed to come up with ways to protect banking and oil business within 60 days. A day later the U.S., which left the agreement a year ago and is sending a carrier strike force to the Persian Gulf, piled on more penalties.

The escalation is disconcerting to non-proliferation officials who see the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and world powers as a model agreement, one that bestowed unprecedented powers and access to international monitors.

The agreement “amounts to the most robust verification system in existence anywhere in the world,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said last month in Washington after meeting with U.S. officials.

Since the deal came into force in January 2016, IAEA inspectors have issued 14-straight reports showing that Iran has remained within the parameters of the deal.

That could change during the third quarter, after the U.S. revoked two waivers that permitted Iran to ship out enriched uranium and heavy water. Delivering his response to a year of U.S. pressure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that recent enriched-uranium stockpiles would exceed limits if the country isn’t allowed to send its inventories of the heavy metal overseas.

Four years of IAEA verification, amounting to more than 8,000 inspection days and more than 100 snap inspections, have cost about 85.5 million euros ($96 million), or about three-fifths the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Iran Snap Nuclear Inspections Jump as Tensions With U.S. Rise

“We’re seeing the cost of keeping peace through this diplomatic accord far cheaper than the cost of a potential military confrontation,” according to Geranmayeh, who advises EU governments. “That’s something to consider for a cost conscious U.S. president that complains about ‘forever wars’. The cost of the deal is a drop in the ocean.”

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