The Obama administration is acknowledging that Iranians would be involved in inspections of the sensitive Parchin military site under a draft arrangement with the U.N., but officials are stressing that they are not the only ones who would be investigating the Iranian location long believed to have hosted covert militarized nuclear activity.
A senior State Department official said that the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, would have “total oversight” of sampling and inspections of Parchin under the agreement between the agency and Iran over access to the site.
“Iran is not self-inspecting,” the official said, though this official would not deny that Iranian inspectors will “play a role.”
It seems likely that IAEA staff would either be present or watching via video camera when the Iranians take samples from the site, a practice that the international nuclear agency has used in previous inspections agreements.
A senior administration official, meanwhile, said that while Iranians may be taking the samples at Parchin, individuals from other countries will be a part of their analysis. The official noted that the arrangement satisfies the demands of the IAEA.
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The official stressed that the arrangement for Parchin is an entirely separate arrangement from investigations of other Iranian nuclear sites with possible military dimensions: They’re a “totally different ballgame.”
The other sites that are part of the inspections regime under a deal between Iran and world powers reached in July – with the IAEA as the instrument for determining the protocol and carrying out those inspections – are open to inspectors 24/7, the official noted.
The examination of Parchin is part of the agency’s inquiry into past nuclear activity, as opposed to inspections of other nuclear sites under the deal, which are more focused on ongoing work.
The specifics of the deal between the IAEA and Iran over the Parchin inspections are not included in the nuclear agreement, but Iran is required to satisfy the IAEA’s concerns about its program under that deal.
The conclusion of that inquiry is also a critical step in the implementation of international sanctions relief under the wider nuclear deal.
Since Parchin is a military installation, the Iranians have always been adamantly against having foreign inspectors roaming around there.
The draft arrangement between the IAEA and Iran concerning Parchin was first reported by The Associated Press.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano put out a statement Thursday saying that the deals of that agreement are “confidential” and that he can’t make them public due to “a legal obligation”
However, he said that he was “disturbed by statements suggesting that the IAEA has given responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran. Such statements misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work.”
He added, “I can state that the arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices. They do not compromise our safeguards standards in any way.”
He also referred to “strict timelines” that will help the U.N. watchdog “clarify past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.”
The State Department is downplaying concerns over the draft arrangement with the IAEA.
“We’re confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, “issues that, in some cases, date back more than a decade.”
Kirby would neither confirm nor deny the specifics of the IAEA deal reported by the AP.
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But those assurances are not enough to satisfy some Republicans, who say the IAEA arrangement is evidence the international community can’t hold Iran accountable on its pledge not to seek nuclear weapons.
“The Obama administration has a lot of explaining to do,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Wednesday. “Why haven’t these secret side agreements been provided to Congress and the American people for review? Why should Iran be trusted to carry out its own nuclear inspections at a military site it tried to hide from the world?”
Kirby stressed that lawmakers have been briefed on the IAEA deal in a classified setting.
In his statement, however, Boehner called these briefings “totally insufficient,” and said, “it still isn’t clear whether anyone at the White House has seen the final documents.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, who is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, blasted the arrangement Thursday.
“Allowing the Iranians to inspect their own nuclear sites, particularly a notorious military site, is like allowing the inmates to run the jail,” Graham said, calling the entire deal a capitulation to Iran than wouldn’t prevent it from becoming a nuclear threshold state. “The inspections won’t happen, can’t be trusted, and clearly, put America at risk.”
Iran and six world powers including the United States reached a broad agreement last month in which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program, including invasive inspections, in exchange for a repeal of crippling sanctions. Critics in Congress, who will vote in September on whether to reject the deal, have repeatedly raised questions about how those inspections will be handled.
While all the Republicans are expected to reject the deal, they would need the support of 13 Senate Democrats and 44 House Democrats to override a promised veto by President Barack Obama of any legislation rejecting the deal.
Only two Senate Democrats have so far announced their opposition to the agreement, and three who had been undecided – Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Claire McCaskill of Missouri – have come out on Wednesday and Thursday to back the deal.
Despite the outcry from Republicans, a White House official Thursday pointed to the trio of Democratic senators announcing their support since the AP story on Parchin was published.
“If Republicans can’t get conservative red-state Democrats with them, then that should say a lot,” the official said, referring to Donnelly and McCaskill.
READ: How many Democrats oppose deal?
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.