Watchdog for Iran Seeks Cash as Lack of Beer Shows Challenge

The United Nations nuclear watchdog charged with holding Iran to account over its nuclear program needs more money and people to do the job, said diplomats and analysts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-member board of governors convened today in Vienna to discuss its expanding role in Iran. World powers broke a decade-long stalemate with the Islamic Republic on Nov. 24 in Geneva with a historic agreement to suspend sanctions valued at $7 billion in exchange for verified limits to Iran’s nuclear program.

“This requires a significant amount of money and manpower,” IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said today at a press briefing in Vienna. “We cannot cover everything by our own budget,” he said, adding he’ll issue a report with the agency’s additional needs in a “reasonable time.”

Iran, with the world’s No. 4 proven oil reserves and a single nuclear-power reactor, already consumes 12 percent of the IAEA’s 97.8 million euro ($133 million) verification budget. That’s set to swell because the Geneva accord requests daily IAEA presence at Iranian enrichment sites. Only Japan, with 54 reactors, including the ones melted down at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, drains more of the agency’s resources.

The “IAEA will soon face inspector burnout,” said Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear engineer who led IAEA inspectors in Iraq. Cultural differences raise more problems, he added.

“Women from Western countries are not treated like they are at home. No beer and lousy food” amplify the challenge, he said.

Joint Commission

Agency inspectors, who travel in groups of two or three to reduce safety risks from industrial accidents, have new responsibilities under the agreement. In addition to daily trips to Iran’s Natanz and Fordo uranium enrichment plants, they’ll need to visit Iranian centrifuge factories, where the machines that enrich uranium, a material that can be used for military or civilian purposes, are manufactured.

The deal also requires inspectors to verify that Iran is eliminating its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and to try to resolve “past and present issues of concern.” The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking nuclear-weapons capabilities, a charge it denies.

The Geneva accord establishes a joint commission that will include people from Iran, world powers and IAEA.

Iranian Suspicions

“The joint commission is a novel way of circumventing Iran’s suspicions that the IAEA staff have been unduly influenced by certain states by bringing Russia and China to the table explicitly,” said Paul Ingram, executive director at the British-American Security Information Council, a policy advisory group.

In the past, Iran has accused the IAEA of facilitating sabotage and spying. The IAEA released a document in November 2011 listing intelligence it called credible that pointed to nuclear-weapons related experiments. Iran said the documents were forged.

Opponents in Iran, Israel, the U.S. Congress and Saudi Arabia tried to sink the Geneva deal before diplomats reached it five days into negotiations. The effects of the agreement have rippled across the region, including in Syria, where proxies aligned with Iran and Saudi Arabia have been fighting for years.

There is a “risk of Israel and naysayers providing information to the agency on alleged centrifuge and other sites to roil the waters,” said Tariq Rauf, former head of verification and security-policy coordination at the IAEA. The six-month deal is to be a first step toward a final accord.

Additional Protocol

Amano, the IAEA director general, is expected to call an extraordinary meeting in December when he’ll unveil budget and personnel requests for the verification, according to two senior diplomats who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been taken. The agency will get what it needs, they said. The IAEA is funded by its 159 member states.

The UN Security Council has demanded for years that Iran implement the IAEA’s so-called “Additional Protocol,” a binding agreement that allows investigators broader access to people and places. Iran voluntarily implemented the protocol from 2003 to 2005, when its current president, Hassan Rouhani, led nuclear negotiations.

“Iran now, for all intents and purposes, is re-applying the Additional Protocol,” said Andreas Persbo, executive director of the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the IAEA. “The IAEA has done Additional Protocol-type work in Iran in the past, so the work would not be new to them.”

‘Far-Sighted and Fair’

Peter Jenkins, the former U.K. ambassador to the IAEA who helped negotiate the earlier agreement with Rouhani, called the Geneva provisions a “credit to all who were involved in their negotiation. They are practical, far-sighted, and fair,” he said in an e-mailed reply to questions.

Not everyone is similarly convinced.

“This agreement does not require Iran to resolve some of the outstanding concerns of the IAEA, which has rigorously documented Iran’s pattern of lies and deceptions,” U.S. Republican Senator John McCain said in a Nov. 24 statement.

While the text of the joint agreement does say Iran has to “facilitate resolution” of past allegations, it doesn’t match a White House statement on the text, which specifically said Iran must clarify the “possible military dimensions” of its atomic work.

IAEA inspectors will visit a facility that manufactures heavy water for Iran’s Arak reactor on Dec. 8, Amano said. Inspectors are still waiting for additional details from world powers and Iran about how the joint commission will be set up, he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.