The deal had at least one surprise for Congress.

Photographer: CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images

Everyone But Kerry Expected 'Anytime, Anywhere' Inspections

Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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When Secretary of State John Kerry testifies in the coming days before Congress about the deal he just negotiated with Iran, he will have some explaining to do.

Some Congressional leaders were under the impression that while Kerry was at the talks in Vienna, he was pressing Iran to allow "anytime, anywhere" access for U.N. inspectors to examine sites suspected of nuclear activity.

Kerry's account differs: "This is a term that honestly I never heard in the four years that we were negotiating," he said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "It was not on the table."

Those words are likely to haunt Kerry this week when he goes before Congress. This is not how others in the administration described the deal in April. Other senior officials said the U.S. was pressing for such access, known as snap inspections, that wouldn't give Iran the time to hide suspicious activity.

QuickTake Iran's Nuclear Program

More important, if Kerry knew there would be no "anytime, anywhere" inspections, why did he let so many members of Congress believe this was a possibility while he was negotiating the deal? Under the terms of the final deal, Iran will have at least 24 days before it would be compelled to allow an inspector physical access to a suspected site, a standard that falls short of what most Democrats and Republicans have said would be necessary for a good deal.

When asked about Kerry's recent remarks, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told us: "I could have sworn that he had said that, but I know it's been a topic of discussion for a long, long time." Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told us: "I think I heard Secretary Kerry use that term once. Any lack of access, delay in time, or lack of being able to verify should be a concern to us."

It's not just Republicans who believed there should be snap inspections in a final deal. Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat in line to be the next leader of his party in the Senate, told as much to Jewish groups this spring. Now his words are featured in a dark money ad against the Iran deal, quoting the senator calling for a deal with "inspections unannounced, anywhere."

Representative Janice Hahn, in a July 2 post on her public Facebook profile, also said the deal should assure "anytime, anywhere" inspections. As did Representative Alan Lowenthal, in a June 23 floor statement.

Not all Democrats were under the impression that snap inspections were on the table. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, told us that he thought the talk of such access "was a fiction from the beginning" and that he never heard Kerry say we should expect "unfettered access." "We should never expect the Iranian government or any government would allow us unfettered unconditional access to military installations," Murphy said.

The administration says now that the lack of snap inspections doesn't matter. A White House fact sheet, for example, cheerily asserts "'Anytime, Anywhere' inspections are simply unnecessary thanks to the deal."

This was not the impression the Obama administration left in April, after the White House announced it had the framework for a deal with Iran. Back then, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told Israel's Channel 2 that the International Atomic Energy Agency would have immediate access to any site the agency wanted to inspect. Last week, Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, dismissed past talk of "anytime, anywhere" access as a "rhetorical flourish."

Also in April, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Bloomberg journalists that as a part of Iran's agreement to what's known as the additional protocol, a more intrusive inspections regime Iran abrogated more than a decade ago, "We expect to have anywhere, anytime access in the sense of a well-defined process with a well-defined end time for access to places that are suspected of out-of-bounds activities."

Moniz in interviews on Sunday said the 24-day standard was consistent with his remarks from April. He also suggested that the deal's critics may be confused between access to Iran's declared nuclear facilities (which are rigorously monitored) with facilities Iran would hide from inspectors. Besides, Moniz insists that 24 days is not enough time to hide traces of radioactive material from the IAEA.

Other experts disagree. What's more, Obama himself once promised the Iran deal was enforceable because America would be able to quickly detect and punish any cheating.

David Albright, a former weapons inspector who is now president of the Institute for Science & International Security, told us he didn't think Moniz in April meant Iran would have 24 days' notice.

"Of course it takes some time for an inspector to get some access," Albright said. "We are talking about a matter of a day or so, not three weeks. A reasonable interpretation of what Moniz said in April would be a few days, not the 24 days in the final agreement."

All of this brings us back to Kerry's assertion that he never even heard about these "anytime, anywhere" inspections when he was negotiating the deal. It's possible Kerry will have an explanation for his remarks on Sunday. But if that doesn't persuade Congress he's telling the whole truth about inspections, lawmakers will wonder what else he's keeping from them about the Iran agreement.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the authors on this story:
Eli Lake at elake1@bloomberg.net
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net