Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz once promised “anywhere, anytime” access to Iran’s nuclear sites, known and unknown. In the end, he and the rest of the crack Obama administration negotiating team gave up on that pledge. Instead, they accepted a limited inspections system that will allow Iran to delay disputed inspections by at least 24 days. On Sunday, Moniz made the rounds of the talk shows, claiming that 24 days would be sufficient to detect whatever traces were left of nuclear activity. That is partially true, but does not actually solve the problem.
There are aspects of the nuclear deal that have non-nuclear components. For example, Iran is supposed to limit its research into advanced centrifuges. Yet a centrifuge is simply a machine that separates lighter and heavier uranium isotopes. It is possible to conduct research on centrifuge technology far beyond what is allowed in the agreement, and without generating new isotopes. A mechanical lab could easily be dismantled and hidden in 24 days.
Furthermore, as Eli Lake of Bloomberg noted on Friday, while larger nuclear facilities might have trouble concealing any forbidden nuclear activity, it might be possible to clean up and hide nuclear materials from smaller facilities. If Iran is likely to cheat on a small scale, as former Obama administration official Dennis Ross says it is, it is difficult to see how monitoring after 24 days is going to find violations big enough to be more convincing than Iranian protestations of innocence, or to trigger punishment.
The fact is that the verification component of the deal is very weak–weaker than Moniz, and Obama, once insisted. That is cause for deep and legitimate concern.