See no evil, speak no evil on Iran?

Delegates sit around a table prior to a bilateral meeting as part of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, on Friday
Delegates sit around a table prior to a bilateral meeting as part of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, on Friday AP

The following editorial was published in the Chicago Tribune:

For years, the U.S. and its allies have accused Iran of violating U.N.-imposed nuclear sanctions. A special panel of experts set up by the U.N. has investigated a steady torrent of those complaints. Now the panel has a complaint of its own: Where are all the complaints?

The panel said in a recently released report that it had noted a “drastic reduction in reporting and information-sharing” by governments in the past year. That’s the same time frame in which the U.S. and its allies have been cajoling Iran to make a nuclear deal.

Were all the apparent sanctions violations cleverly concealed by Iran? No. The panel noted that no Western country had reported that Maj. Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit in Iran’s Republican Guard Corps, had violated a U.N.-mandated travel ban by going to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This wasn’t top secret: The panel report included colorful news photos of Soleimani violating the ban.

So why has the torrent turned to a trickle? The panel suggests two possibilities:

▪ The Iranians are abiding by the rules, so there’s “a general reduction of procurement activities.”

▪ Iran and Western powers have made “a political decision by some member states to refrain from reporting to avoid a possible negative impact on ongoing negotiations.”

In other words, the panel wonders if the U.S. and its allies are so eager for a deal that their stance on reporting Iran cheating is: See no evil, speak no evil …

A State Department official on Wednesday said the U.S. is not withholding information about Iranian violations. Let’s hope not. Tiptoeing around the ayatollah and his henchmen won’t guarantee a better deal.

Still, this report is troubling. “When a U.N.-created panel suggests that countries deliberately may be withholding data on Iranian sanctions violations in order not to interfere with ongoing nuclear negotiations, this only intensifies congressional concern about the commitment of the Obama administration and our European allies to the enforcement of any Iran nuclear deal,” Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told us.

That underscores why any nuclear deal has to require that Iran come clean about its past and present nuclear activities. And why it has to submit to “anywhere, anytime” inspections of nuclear facilities and military bases where inspectors suspect nuclear work is ongoing.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said he won’t allow such inspections of Iran’s military sites or grant access to Iranian scientists. We'll see who blinks.

Iran has long stonewalled international inspectors seeking answers about its past nuclear weapons research, just as it has circumvented other U.N. sanctions to build its nuclear prowess. That’s why “anywhere, anytime” inspections are key to a durable nuclear deal. “The best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently told The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. and its allies reportedly are studying a proposal to have inspection requests channeled through a commission that would vote on whether to grant access. Iran and its allies, Russia and China, wouldn’t have the votes to block an inspection. That sounds cumbersome and prone to long blustery delays while officials argue about inspection ground rules.

Iran has a deep and rich history of cheating and refusing to answer inspectors’ questions. The U.S. and its allies can’t be so eager for a deal – any deal – that they turn a blind eye to current sanctions violations and then let Iran gloss over its past weapons research and erect barricades against future inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Let’s see what Iran has been hiding.

In summary: