WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its negotiating partners agreed “in secret” to allow Iran to evade some restrictions in last year’s landmark nuclear agreement in order to meet the deadline for it to start getting relief from economic sanctions, according to a think tank report published on Thursday.
The report, which was released by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, is based on information provided by several officials of governments involved in the negotiations. The group’s president David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and co-author of the report, declined to identify the officials.
“The exemptions or loopholes are happening in secret, and it appears that they favour Iran,” Albright said.
Among the exemptions were two that allowed Iran to exceed the deal’s limits on how much low-enriched uranium (LEU) it can keep in its nuclear facilities, the report said. LEU can be purified into highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium.
The exemptions, the report said, were approved by the joint commission the deal created to oversee implementation of the accord. The commission is comprised of the United States and its negotiating partners — called the P5+1 — and Iran.
One senior “knowledgeable” official was cited by the report as saying that if the joint commission had not acted to create these exemptions, some of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not have been in compliance with the deal by Jan 16, the deadline for the beginning of the lifting of sanctions.
The US administration has said that the world powers that negotiated the accord — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — made no secret arrangements.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the joint commission and its role were “not secret.” He did not address the report’s assertions of exemptions.
Diplomats at the United Nations for the other P5+1 countries did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the report. Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.
The report’s assertions are likely to anger critics of the nuclear deal. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to renegotiate the agreement if he’s elected, while Democrat Hillary Clinton supports the accord.
Albright said the exceptions risked setting precedents that Iran could use to seek additional waivers.
Albright served as an inspector with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team that investigated former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons programme.
While Albright has neither endorsed nor denounced the overall agreement, he has expressed concern over what he considers potential flaws in the nuclear deal, including the expiration of key limitations on Iran’s nuclear work in 10-15 years. The administration of President Barack Obama informed Congress of the exemptions on Jan. 16, said the report. Albright said the exemptions, which have not been made public, were detailed in confidential documents sent to Capitol Hill that day — after the exemptions had already been granted.
The White House official said the administration had briefed Congress “frequently and comprehensively” on the joint commission’s work.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a leading critic of the Iran deal and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an email: “I was not aware nor did I receive any briefing (on the exemptions).” Republican Senator Bob Corker, the committee chairman and leader of the opposition in Congress to the nuclear deal, said the administration was “willing to accommodate Iran at every turn to implement a flawed agreement that granted Tehran billions in sanction relief and paved the way for the industrialisation of its nuclear programme.” Corker, however, did not address the exemptions.
As part of the concessions that allowed Iran to exceed uranium limits, the joint commission agreed to exempt unknown quantities of 3.5 per cent LEU contained in liquid, solid and sludge wastes stored at Iranian nuclear facilities, according to the report.
The agreement restricts Iran to stockpiling only 300 kg of 3.5 per cent LEU.