The former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency believes the 24 days given Iran to agree to an inspection of a suspicious site is too long and allows Iran the opportunity to cheat.
Olli Heinonen, who left the IAEA in 2009, is very familiar with Iranian cheating in their nuclear program and, unlike American officials, believes that Iran "has not changed its nuclear course" and is still trying to build a bomb.
The former IAEA deputy director voiced skepticism about the inspection provisions for suspected nuclear sites contained in the deal reached with Iran, the United States, and five other nations on July 14.
"Iran has not changed its nuclear course. It's keeping all the options open" for building nuclear arms, Heinonen said, adding that Iran has signed an IAEA additional protocol permitting short-notice inspections but is delaying ratification for eight years.
In a meeting with reporters, the Finnish nuclear expert said components for nuclear bombs or warheads can be put together in a relatively small space, some 239 square yards in size.
With a dispute settlement process that gives the Iranians 24 days before allowing inspectors in, hiding nuclear arms development work will be made easier, he said.
The Iran accord requires Tehran to resolve any disputed requests by the IAEA for inspections of suspect nuclear sites within 14 days. If the dispute is not resolved, an appeal would be made to a joint commission of representatives of the six nations that then have a week to deal with the issue. Iran would be required to comply with commission requests in three days, for a total of 24 days of the dispute resolution process.
Large facilities such as Iran's Natanz, where large numbers of centrifuges are kept, will be easier to monitor. But small, clandestine sites can be dismantled in 24 days.
"Much of this equipment is very easy to move," Heinonen said. "So you can take it out over the night … and then there is this dispute settlement time which is 24 days-you will use that to sanitize the place, make new floors, new tiles on the wall, paint the ceiling and take out the ventilation."
A large-scale enrichment plant would not be easily scrubbed in 24 days, but smaller covert facilities that are used toward the end of the nuclear weapons process can be hidden or sanitized in 24 days, he said.
"You can compare it to your home," Heinonen said. "This [nuclear] equipment can be taken out in one or two nights. How long will it take for you to renovate your home? It doesn't take three weeks."
While it is true that it is very difficult to remove traces of uranium, given the time period and a small enough space to sanitize, it's more than possible. And not all elements of nuclear bomb construction would leave traces of uranium. Testing of conventional explosives to develop an implosion method was probablly carried out at the Parchin military base as late as 2012. There are also many computer simulations that need to be run in connection with building a bomb, including bomb design, warhead design for a ballistic missile, estimated yields, and implosion design for a plutonium bomb. It wouldn't take 24 days for the Iranians to disappear that kind of evidence.
The two big assumptions the US is making with this deal - that Iran can be trusted not to cheat and that Iran doesn't want the bomb - can easily be blown apart, and probably will be, in Congress. It is unfortunate that it won't matter since the UN has already signed off on the deal.