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Politics & Government

Iran Nuclear Deal Will Allow 'Unprecedented' Inspection


That six-months agreement lays out a detailed plan of inspection for Iran's nuclear facilities. The White House calls it unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring. So how will that work? We're going to ask former U.N. chief weapons inspector David Kay. Welcome to the program.

DAVID KAY: Happy to be with you.

BLOCK: And three years ago, you wrote in an article, a weapons inspection regime in Iran will not work. That was at a time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president. Now, of course, Iran has a new president and has agreed to this deal. Are you still as dubious now as you were then?

KAY: Well, I'm dubious that a weapons inspection process, without a change in the objectives of Iran itself, would be able to keep it from developing a nuclear weapon. Now, what you have here is different. You have an Iranian regime that says it's not interested in weapons and is going to agree to really unprecedented access to show that and ultimately change, one hopes, the configuration of its nuclear facilities. So making a weapon would be less likely or certainly more difficult.

BLOCK: Well, let's walk through some of the nitty-gritty in terms of how these inspections will work. According to the agreement, Iran has agreed that it will not enrich uranium over 5 percent and that it will convert or dilute its stockpiles that been enriched to 20 percent, dilute that down. So how do inspectors monitor that? What specifically will they be doing?

KAY: Well, the dilution will take place at a facility in Natanz that the inspectors will have to be going to anyway because it's a major centrifuge facility. And what they will do is they will feed the 20 percent stock and mix it with the lower enriched stock that is there. So the inspectors will actually watch it, take measurements to be sure it's doing it.

The other thing that the Iranians have agreed to do is half of that 20 percent, they're going to convert to uranium oxide, and you physically watch the conversion facility as that takes place.

BLOCK: The agreement also stipulates daily access for inspectors to Iran's facilities in Natanz and Fordo and this caught my eye. It also said inspectors will review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring. What does that mean? What is the significance of that?

KAY: Well, what the agreement really means is that the inspectors will be daily at each site, a daily visit, but they will not have 24/7 presence. Now, when they make their daily visits, they will review the footage from the cameras, the digital recordings to see if anything out of the ordinary happened, and match it up with what they're observing during their daily visits.

BLOCK: As you look through the agreement, which of the terms strikes you as being the hardest to monitor and to make sure that Iran is keeping its word?

KAY: Well, it's really the scope of the Iranian enrichment and reactor situation you're now reviewing. They have upwards of 20,000 centrifuges. This agreement is now, for the first time, going to allow the inspectors to look at where these centrifuges are being produced and where repairs are being carried out. It's the volume of it.

In fact, most people don't realize that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has only about 250 inspectors. This task may well employ over half of them. Not necessarily in Iran all at the same time, but rotating in and out. Now, this presumes that Iran, in fact, is compliant with the inspectors; they don't refuse access at certain times. The technical task at hand is not all that different than inspectors have done at other times. They just haven't done it in this volume in one country under these conditions.

BLOCK: As a former inspector yourself, how troubled are you by the prospect of hidden sites that Iran has not disclosed and how the agreement could possibly touch those?

KAY: Well, you can't ignore the possibility of hidden sites, as the program has, indeed, had hidden sites, clandestine sites, in the past that were not disclosed to the IAEA. Your first order of business, though, is going to be to look and monitor at what you now have access to. But at the back your mind and as you go through this you're looking for any detail that might suggest something is being done someplace else.

And that's, in fact, what makes a good inspector. Look, it's a bundle of technical skills and a type of personality that is just used to operating in conditions where bad food and bad hotel rooms are standard. But more than that, it's a sense or feel about what is going on. Does it make sense? Is there something that's not there? You just hope you have enough inspectors with those skills.

BLOCK: Well, David Kay, thanks so much for talking with us.

KAY: Good to talk to you, Melissa.

BLOCK: David Kay is the former chief weapons inspector for the U.N. and IAEA.

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