June 11, 2015 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1167

Nuclear Negotiations At An Impasse: Leader Khamenei Rejects Agreement Reached On Token Inspection Of Military Sites And Questioning Of Scientists; U.S. Willing To Close IAEA Dossier On Iranian PMD, To Settle For Inspecting Declared Nuclear Sites Only, And To Rely On Intelligence; EU Objects

June 11, 2015 | By Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1167


This past week, members of Iran's nuclear negotiating team revealed details about the Iran-U.S. nuclear negotiations. The negotiations were dealt a blow when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected an agreement reached by the two sides concerning a token inspection of military facilities and questioning of several nuclear scientists and "military personnel"; these were to be the response to the IAEA's open dossier on possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran's nuclear program to which Iran has so far refused to respond.

Iranian reports on these developments show that in order to arrive at a comprehensive agreement, the U.S. is willing to forgo actual inspection of Iranian military facilities and to settle for inspection of declared nuclear facilities only, as set forth under the Additional Protocol, while the ongoing monitoring of Iran's nuclear program will be left to intelligence elements.[1]

Thus, at this stage, there is a deadlock: Iran is refusing both to respond to the IAEA dossier on its PMD, and to allow actual inspection of facilities that are not declared nuclear facilities.

Furthermore, the EU has announced its objections to a comprehensive agreement with Iran in the absence of satisfactory answers from it regarding the IAEA dossier on its PMD. It said that the IAEA investigation of the PMD "will be essential" to a nuclear deal.[2] IAEA Director-General Yukio Amano has also linked the investigation of Iranian PMD to the attainment of such an agreement.

The Issue: Inspection Of Iranian Military Sites, Questioning Of Iranian Scientists

On May 25, 2015, in an Iranian television interview, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and head negotiator Abbas Araghchi disclosed that this issue had been agreed upon, but that when the Iranian team returned to Tehran for Khamenei's approval, Khamenei had rejected this agreed solution out of hand (see MEMRI TV Clip No. 4928, Top Iranian Nuclear Negotiator Abbas Aragchi: We Reached Solution with P5+1 on Site Inspection, But Khamenei Rejected It, May 25, 2015 and Appendix I).[3]

It was evident also from Aragchi's statements that after Khamenei rejected the agreed solution, Iran even reneged from what had been agreed as part of the Additional Protocol, and is now insisting that limitations and restrictions that are part of the Protocol be implemented in a way that will make future inspections difficult. As part of Iran's backpedaling, Araghchi repeatedly emphasized that "so far, nothing has been concluded" regarding the issue of the inspections.[4]

U.S. Willingness To Disregard IAEA PMD Dossier

Statements by negotiating team member Hamid Baidinejad show that in return for willingness on Iran's part to sign a comprehensive agreement, the U.S. was willing to forgo actual investigation of the IAEA's open PMD dossier on Iran and instead to conduct a token inspection of military sites and questioning of Iranian nuclear scientists and military personnel. The U.S. asked Iran to carry out a number of specific steps, thereby paving the way to a comprehensive solution for this issue. These steps included inspections at several points in Iran, including two military facilities, and questioning several senior military officials and scientists (see Appendix II).

Iranian Negotiators' Two Versions Of Events

An analysis of these statements by the Iranian negotiators shows that there are two different versions of what took place in the negotiations. According to Araghchi, the Iranian team agreed to the U.S.'s demand for a token inspection, but when the team returned to Tehran, Khamenei completely rejected this token inspection. Aragchi's disclosure that the Iranian negotiators had arrived at an agreement with the Americans that was subsequently rejected by Khamenei caused an uproar in the Iranian political system, triggering harsh criticism against both the negotiators and the leaders of the pragmatic camp, and even leading to a public confrontation between Khamenei and pragmatic camp leader Hashemi Rafsanjani.[5]

The second version of events emerged after the uproar sparked by Aragchi's revelations. Another negotiator, Baidinejad, in an attempt to correct Araghchi's claim, stated that the Iranian negotiators had rejected the U.S. demands, even the demand for token inspection, but that the Americans had pressed them to present the demand to Khamenei anyway; when they did so, at the Americans' urging, Khamenei rejected it outright.


Iran's reneging on its consent to the U.S. demand for token inspections of its military facilities and questioning of some of its scientists and military personnel in exchange for the closing of the IAEA's PMD dossier on it places President Obama in a difficult situation, and brings the negotiations to an impasse. This is because along with Khamenei's rejection, the EU and the IAEA director-general both oppose closing Iran's dossier in order to arrive at a comprehensive agreement.

It was apparently under these circumstances that CIA director John Brennan was secretly dispatched in early June to Israel, in order to persuade Israel, and, via Israel, the EU, that intelligence monitoring of any Iranian PMD was a satisfactory solution and that actual investigation of the PMD, which Khamenei rejected, could be waived. To this end, Brennan also underlined, on May 31, 2015 on CBS's Face the Nation, the close U.S.-Israel security cooperation.[6]

In light of this situation, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on May 31, 2015 that with regard to inspection, "other solutions must be discussed."[7]

Appendix I: Aragchi's Version Of Events

In an interview that aired May 25, 2015 on Iran's Channel 2 TV,Araqchi said [8]: "[Our] red lines may change under certain circumstances. This is another issue. We may change some of our red lines for a certain period of time. This is not a problem. The [leader] will give us new instructions, and the team will act accordingly. We have acted within this framework, and we will do so in the future. We will not let ourselves go beyond this framework...  

"The Additional Protocol, which is the internationally accepted [control] regime, was not a red line for us. As I said before, our [negotiating] team does not determine those red lines. From the very beginning - and given that the Additional Protocol is [internationally] accepted - we were given permission to accept it during the negotiations. So far, it has not been accepted - we do not have an agreement yet - but it is one of the issues that the negotiating team has been given instructions to accept. As I said, the red lines may or may not be changed in due course, and the Additional Protocol may or may not be accepted at some point, but so far, this has not happened, and our instructions have not changed... 

"If the military officials, the relevant officials, the Iranian parliament or the council appointed by Khamenei reach the conclusion that the access provided for in the Additional Protocol comes under the same category as the inspections that Khamenei banned, we will obey and will categorically not allow 'managed access...' 

"The 'Possible Military Dimension' [PMD] has always been a strong pretext for the [West]. We have to take this pretext away from them. We have created conditions that will enable us, within the framework of reaching the final nuclear agreement, to resolve the issue of PMD. This is possible now. In the negotiations, we discussed and reached several possible solutions, but these were not accepted in Tehran. These include [allowing the IAEA] to interview several [nuclear scientists], and allowing access to several facilities. They gave us a list and said: 'If you let us have access to these people and these facilities, we will end the issue of PMD.' This, however, was not accepted by Tehran, and Khamenei decisively and courageously rejected it.."

Appendix II: Baidinejad's Version Of Events

In June 1, 2015 statements on his Instagram account that were quoted by the Iranian news agency Fars, negotiating team member Hamid Baidinejad said:[9] "One of the first principles agreed upon, already at the start of the Iran-P5+1 negotiations, was that in a future nuclear agreement, Iran would implement the Additional Protocol on a temporary and voluntary basis until the Majlis decides whether to ratify it and takes into account the other side's implementation of its obligationsÔǪ

"It is natural that after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is signed, Iran would be expected to revert to its previous decision - that is, temporarily and voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol... Without the implementation of the Additional Protocol, even if it is on a temporary basis, the IAEA will not be able to confirm that Iran's nuclear program is civilian, and that would mean that the process for resolving the nuclear issue will have failed...

"In no way does the Additional Protocol include a clause regarding an obligation on the part of the member states to agree to inspection of their military facilities or investigation of their nuclear scientists. The only thing that the Additional Protocol does make possible is controlled access to non-nuclear facilities, for taking [soil] samples for proving that there is no nuclear activity at facilities that are not declared [to be nuclear sites]...

"Should there be evidence of nuclear material at undeclared sites, whether they are military or civilian, the IAEA will be able to demand controlled access to them [but] only by means of a specific procedure already set out, so that an [Additional Protocol] member state will agree to the sampling in order to prove that it is not conducting nuclear activity in undeclared facilities...

"The Additional Protocol is not a special agreement between the international community and Iran; it is an important international document. Over 120 states are currently members of this protocol, and some have signed it and implemented it temporarily. Therefore, the attempt to interpret it in a way that will include an obligation on the part of [member]states to undergo inspection at [their] military facilities or to allow investigation of [their] nuclear scientists is completely mistaken...

"The discussion on the issue of [Iran's] PMD, [that is,] Western countries' claim that Iran has a military nuclear program for producing nuclear weapons, is historically rooted in the years prior to 2003. In recent years, U.S. and Western intelligence services have said that before 2003, Iran's military wing - commanded by specific commanders in the country - engaged in an extensive clandestine project for producing nuclear weapons. To prove their mistaken claim, [the West] presented intelligence based on their intelligence agencies; however, Iran considers all this intelligence [data] to be faked... There is no doubt that these false accusations against Iran can only be resolved with a political agreement. Discussion of this issue, no matter how lengthy, will not remove these accusations... 

"[That is why] the Iranian negotiating team proposed during the talks that Iran and the P5+1 resolve this issue, because they [i.e. the P5+1] would like, along with reaching an agreement, that the issue of the accusations [that Iran] attempted to obtain nuclear weapons will be resolved. They proposed that Iran take several specific steps and thus pave the way to a comprehensive solution to the issue... Iran announced that it considers this dossier faked... But an agreement on it depends on what steps Iran will be asked to take [in order to close the dossier]. They announced that they will discuss the issue on level of the P5+1 [alone] because of its special sensitivity, and will submit their final opinion to Iran at the appropriate time.

"In the round [of talks] that preceded the [April 2015] press release in Lausanne, the P5+1 countries presented Iran with a program that includes inspection at a few points, including two military facilities, and questioning of several senior military officials and nuclear experts whose names were noted in the IAEA reports both directly and indirectly. They claimed that [if they] were allowed access to these sites, and the IAEA was permitted to question these people, that would be the end of the matter of the [PMD] accusations against Iran. As soon as this insulting proposal was raised, Iran rejected it unequivocally... At the same time, the P5+1 asked the Iranian representatives to present the P5+1's opinion to officials in Iran, despite their express opposition, [for the officials' approval].

"Leader [Khamenei's] harsh response rejecting the demand by these countries to inspect military facilities and question nuclear scientists was a completely correct and accurate response. The nuclear negotiations team is proud of having expressed the exact same position [as Khamenei] three months ago, thanks to its complete grasp of the position of the regime and of the leader... Unfortunately, there were some in Iran who were not updated on the details of this issue... and instead of praising the Iranian negotiating team, took the opportunity, while being unaware of the process by which the issue was brought up for discussion - which was reported in full to top regime officials - to launch extremely harsh attacks on the Iranian negotiating team, to plan protests, and to demand a halt to the negotiations...

"These objections and accusations will not last long, but airing these concerns to public opinion can cast doubt on the regime's main institutions. Everyone is expected to understand Iran's critical circumstances, and, in this Year of Empathy Between the Government and the People they must join hands in defending Iran's basic principles and rights and must unite with senior officials in order to efficiently promote the sensitive stage of the nuclear negotiations under the guidance of top senior officials in the regime of the Islamic Republic - and especially by Leader [Khamenei] who is very closely overseeing the negotiations. This way, if an agreement is reached, it will guarantee the preservation of the great Iranian nation's basic principles."

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President and Founder of MEMRI.


[1] Under the Additional Protocol, the clarification of PMDs at facilities that are not declared nuclear facilities is subject to the consent of the member state under investigation; thus, such sites in fact cannot be inspected. 

[2] AP, June 8 2015.

[3] In the interview, Aragchi said that the NPT's Additional Protocol was not a red line for the Iranian team, and that the team had in fact beeninstructed to accept it. He explained that Iran could always harden its position on these issues. See MEMRI TV Clip No. 4928, "Top Iranian Nuclear Negotiator Abbas Araqchi: We Reached Solution with P5+1 on Site Inspection, But Khamenei Rejected It," May 25, 2015. It should be mentioned that under former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, IAEA questioning of Iranian scientists was permitted, and two visits to the Parchin military facility were allowed. The Iranian team's acceptance of this demand by the international community was presumably based on this precedent.

[4] Irib (Iran), June 4, 2014.

[5] Senior figures in Iran's ideological camp hastened to obscure Araghchi's statements, and to correct them. Majlis speaker for national security affairs Alaeddin Boroujerdi stated that Aragchi's words were untrue, and added: "Aragchi only discussed the major issues, and did not say that Iran had consented to inspection of military facilities... Khamenei announced that we will not allow any talks with Iranian scientists, after he noticed that we were under threat by terrorists. The arrest of several who murdered our nuclear scientists revealed that these [perpetrators] were linked to the Mossad. We have red lines, and we will implement them. ISNA, Iran, May 25, 2015. The Javan daily, which is affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), also denied Aragchi's statements regarding the red lines: "In a television interview, top Iranian negotiator [Aragchi] referred to a particular point, and this issue should be addressed. He said: '...Perhaps under certain conditions our red lines will change, and the work [of the negotiations] will proceed according to instructions.' This declaration regarding the possibility of changes to the red lines under certain circumstances is mistaken, for several reasons... As is evident from their names, the red lines are borders that define the basic framework of the negotiations, and without them the negotiations will reach undesirable and unexpected results." Javan also warned the Iranian negotiating team about deviating from the red lines: "The Iranian nation supports its negotiating team as long as it operates to realize its rights in the framework of the national interests and preserves national honor. Any withdrawal from this basis, and acceptance of being forced into humiliation by the enemy side, will be met with a popular response from the nation, and will undoubtedly go down in history as a dark and negative point." Javan, Iran, May 26, 2015. A new website affiliated with the extremist ideological camp called on May 26, 2015 on Khamenei to fire Foreign Minister Zarif and his negotiating team for their "American tendencies.", May 26, 2015. 

[6] Haaretz (Israel), June 9, 2015.

[7] Mehr (Iran), May 31, 2015.

[9] Fars (Iran), June 1, 2015.

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