Is the Additional Protocol Sufficient to Verify Iran’s Nuclear Program?

Iran has agreed to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal, but Iranian negotiators have been reluctant to grant the Agency inspection rights that go beyond the Additional Protocol, such as allowing access to military sites.[1]  Is the Additional Protocol sufficient for the IAEA to verify that Iran is complying with a final agreement and not secretly developing a nuclear weapon?

What the Additional Protocol Covers—and What it Doesn’t

The Additional Protocol was developed by the IAEA after the First Gulf War, when it became clear that Iraq had exploited a loophole in the standard IAEA Safeguards Agreement and used undeclared facilities – not subject to IAEA inspections – to build a clandestine nuclear weapons program.  The Additional Protocol expanded the type of facility considered part of a country’s declared nuclear program and also granted inspectors limited access to undeclared sites.  The U.S. State Department, in its April 2 fact sheet, described the Additional Protocol as a means of “providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.”

What specifically does the Additional Protocol cover?

  • An expanded declaration that includes “nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities not involving nuclear material,” such as uranium mines and mills and reports on trade in sensitive nuclear items.
  • “Complementary access” (pre-approved access) to all declared facilities in the expanded declaration, usually on at least 24-hours notice.
  • “Complementary access” to undeclared sites “to carry out location-specific environmental sampling” on at least 24-hours notice.

The IAEA’s right to access undeclared sites is restricted to localized environmental sampling for the purposes of resolving “a question relating to the correctness or completeness” of a country’s declaration.  That right is furthered qualified: if a country “is unable to provide such access, every reasonable effort shall be made to satisfy Agency requirements, without delay, at adjacent locations or through other means.”

The Additional Protocol does not authorize “anytime, anywhere” inspections, and the access it provides to undeclared sites could be limited by Iran.  There might be cases where IAEA inspectors would need to use tools other than environmental sampling to resolve their questions.  And, in practice, a country could deny the IAEA access to sites not officially declared as a part of its nuclear program – like Iran’s military sites – without violating the Additional Protocol.

“Anytime, Anywhere” Inspections—The Right Standard?

Some experts have advocated for “anytime, anywhere” inspections.  Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the IAEA, recently warned that “Without unfettered access to people and all sites in Iran, and if limitations and sanctuaries are carved out, it will be impossible to convincingly certify that Iran is fully complying with its undertakings.”

The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) was granted “anytime, anywhere” access in Iraq after the first Gulf War.  Quite literally, inspectors had the legal right to go anywhere, anytime, with the exception of “presidential sites” exempted by then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.  Their authorities included:

  • “The right to unimpeded access to any site or facility for the purpose of the on-site inspection”
  • “Unrestricted freedom of entry and exit without delay or hindrance”
  • “Unrestricted freedom of movement without advance notice within Iraq”
  • “The right to designate any site whatsoever for observation, inspection or other monitoring activity”
  • “The right to request, receive, examine and copy any record, data or information or examine, retain, move or photography, including videotape, any item relevant … and to conduct interviews”
  • “The right to take and analyse samples of any kind as well as to remove and export samples for off-site analysis”

And so on.  In practice, however, inspections in Iraq were not “unfettered,” as inspectors were drawn into an adversarial game of “cat and mouse” with Iraqi officials, who sought to frustrate, obfuscate, and delay inspectors at every turn.  Former U.N. weapons inspectors, speaking at a roundtable discussion recently hosted by the Wisconsin Project, observed that “anytime, anywhere” inspections – while necessitated by Iraqi deception – were inherently confrontational.  They were also meant to be a short-term remedy – needed to verify the dismantlement of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs after the war – and not intended to be sustained over the long-run.  For these reasons, the former inspectors did not view the Iraq model of “anytime, anywhere” as a good precedent for Iran.

Additional Protocol Plus?

Negotiators in the ongoing talks with Iran appear to be grappling with the task of defining IAEA inspection rights that go beyond the Additional Protocol – which is necessary but not sufficient – but fall short of the “anytime, anywhere” standard. They should look at the challenge inspection procedures included in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).  Iran is a party to the CWC, which authorizes the following:

  • An on-site challenge inspection of any facility or location in the territory of a member-state
  • A fixed timetable for every step of the inspections process, beginning with the initiation of the challenge inspection
  • “Managed access” procedures that allow negotiations over the extent of access to be granted and permit the challenged state to protect sensitive information not relevant to the inquiry

No challenge inspection has been mounted under the CWC, but the authority to do so is clear: access to suspect sites is mandatory and does not include the right of refusal. The CWC also describes procedures to manage inspector access, which offer substantial rights and protections to the country to be inspected. The CWC’s model of strong inspection rights – where no site is off-limits – balanced by managed access procedures could offer negotiators a solution that addresses the concerns of both sides.


[1] One notable exception: according to the U.S. State Department fact sheet released on April 2, Iran has agreed to “continuous surveillance” of its centrifuge production and storage facilities.  The Additional Protocol only grants IAEA inspectors periodic access to certain centrifuge production facilities.